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Zoning officials leave upset

Wedron Silica representatives in February failed to persuade the La Salle County Zoning Board to recommend its proposed sand mine expansion. Two weeks later, a big county board majority approved the request.
Wedron Silica representatives in February failed to persuade the La Salle County Zoning Board to recommend its proposed sand mine expansion. Two weeks later, a big county board majority approved the request.

Two founding members of the La Salle County Zoning Board of Appeals have resigned, saying they are upset with how county board members handle zoning matters.

Larry Bianchi and Tom Bruch started serving as zoning board members a dozen years ago, when the county's first-ever zoning code took effect.

The zoning board's job is to take testimony on zoning and land-use issues and then make recommendations to the elected county board.

In recent months, the county board has overruled the recommendations of the lower body in many of its decisions, including on solar farms and an expansion of a sand mine.

"We take hours and hours of testimony, and the county board does the opposite of what we recommend" said Bruch, who farms near Oglesby.

Bruch said he remembered being told that if the county passed a zoning code, "the big guy will get whatever he wants and the little guy will get nothing."

"That's what happened," he said.

Bruch noted the goal of the county's long-term plan for development called for the protection of prime farmland. And that was often the basis for the zoning board's recommendations against allowing special uses such as solar farms.

Both Bruch and Bianchi said they liked a few county board members attended zoning board meetings, but they noted the majority of board members never asked for the reasoning behind zoning members' votes.

"I'm very disgusted with the way the county board is handling zoning," Bruch said. "I have no qualm with the county board members who are there at every meeting. It's the guys who never set foot in there."

He said he remained a passionate advocate of zoning.

"I loved every minute of sitting on that board," Bruch said, but added he was wasting his time if the county board disregarded the zoning board's input.

Bianchi, of Peru, said he learned a lot in his years on the zoning board, noting he has been involved in commercial real estate and development for a long time.

"I didn't resign because the county board went against our rulings. That's their prerogative as elected officials. But other than board members who attended our meetings regularly, I never had another county board member ask us why we voted the way we did," Bianchi said. "If I was on the county board, I would want to know about the thinking of zoning board members."

Bruch said he disagreed with Bianchi many times, "but we shook hands afterward. We respected each other's opinions."

Zoning board member Arratta Znaniecki also resigned recently. She couldn't be reached for comment.

County Board Chairman Jerry Hicks, D-Marseilles, didn't return a message.

Who's who

Members of the La Salle County Zoning Board of Appeals (with three vacancies):

Doug Stockley, chairman

Sandi Billard

Jim Maierhofer

Monty Whipple

Debra Lane (alternate)

Fred Seville (alternate)

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