The Parker is a large commercial development proposed within view of the heart of Galena. Eighty acres of farmland and forest south of downtown and next to the Galena River Trail were purchased by a Wheaton, IL stock trader who wants to construct a sprawling modern resort complex and annex it into the city of Galena.
The developer wants to build 125 or more glass-fronted guest cabins on stilts . He wants to build a 50,000 square foot hotel, restaurant, and event center. He wants to build a cafe, a winery, a farm-themed overnight area and more. Galena's Mayor, who voted against the project, said the developer was "asking for the moon."
City and county growth plans rejected the area for potential future development. Yet the proposal was forwarded by city staff to the Zoning Board without identifying that issue or the numerous ways it fails to comply with zoning codes and other requirements. The Zoning Board failed to recommend the proposal but it was brought before the City Council anyway. Despite information in the growth plans and despite overwhelming public opposition, including 580 petition signatures gathered in only 10 days, the City Council voted to re-zone from agriculture to commercial and to approve the development plan.
This entire project was kept under wraps for as long as possible. A few neighbors were told about the proposal in November 2021, but in response to requests City officials stated they had no submitted plans, even though they had apparently carried out internal reviews. There were no public question-and-answer meetings as for other high-profile projects. No plans, documents, or information were made available to anyone until the minimum legally required 15 days prior to the Zoning Board hearing. And despite having no recommendation by the Zoning Board, the City Council rushed to vote on the proposal less than 3 weeks later. They spent only an hour discussing and approving a plan for the largest, most complex development Galena has ever been asked to consider. By contrast, they have considered water rates for a year, parking meters for months. They gave more consideration of the impacts to traffic and neighbors of a small dog kennel than they gave to this project. What is going on?
The resort would add hundreds of vehicles a day to the Highway 20-Blackjack Road intersection, rated 'critical' by the Illinois Department of Transportation because of the number of injury-involved accidents there. The access road would funnel that traffic on and off Blackjack where the road is narrow and visibility is limited. The proposal would add to demands on volunteer emergency services, whose only access to the entire east Galena response area is via a single, congested bridge.
The large commercial development would sit on top of one of Galena's oldest neighborhoods. Modern, glass-fronted cottages on stilts would be perched above the Historic District and directly face some of Galena's oldest buildings and residences. The lights, noise, traffic, large outdoor events, restaurant businesses, and related year-round activity would transform a historic residential neighborhood into the noisy back yard of a large business operation. It would de-value historic properties and drive residents away. Will all those homes eventually become vacation rentals?
The area is prone to flooding; added runoff from streets and buildings would significantly increase the risk to neighbors. The development would be built on bedrock and thin soils identified in city and county maps as unsuitable for streets and buildings, and as 'very high risk' for aquifer contamination. The development would destroy habitat for dozens of bird species, at-risk bat species, pollinators, and others. The proposed vineyards would require continual application of large quantities of pesticides and herbicides.
Public presentations have varied among audiences: is there a proposed zip line and petting zoo, as some have shown? Or not, as in other presentations? The renderings show buildings barely visible among trees, but the nearly invisible fine print shows all that greenery is actually "future plantings". The developer's local partner has called the tiny spaces between cabins and the patches of ground between parking lots and buildings "open space", contrary to the term's legal definition. Based on that misuse he claims that 80% of the development will be "open space". He claims that 130 or more new commercial buildings would be less impactive than barns and sheds allowed by the current agricultural zoning designation.
Throwing aside the city's Comprehensive Plan and zoning requirements sets a precedent for all future developers and all future zoning requests. Throwing those rules aside seriously undermines Galena's ability to plan future growth, to chart its own future, and to ever be able to say 'no' to developments in unacceptable locations or that would have unacceptable impacts to residents and visitors. This developer has been looking into purchasing more land. Do we really know where this is headed? Do we want to be the next Wisconsin Dells? Or is the unique small-town experience and rural setting of Galena worth preserving?
Galena currently attracts 1.5 million visitors per year. Tourism is important to Galena, and Galenians support it. But many wonder how much the infrastructure of Galena - a town of only 3300 permanent residents - can support. At what point does crowding become such an issue that Galena country is no longer a pleasant place to visit or live in? How much can Galena's small staff, limited infrastructure budget, narrow streets and roads, and limited amount of parking support? At what point will Galena cease to be a real town, and become just a collection of tourist attractions?
The developer's land includes the historic Marine Hospital. This structure was built in 1859 as a hospital for sailors along the Mississippi. It has sat mostly vacant for decades. The developer has promised to renovate this building and allow people to enjoy it. That's great. But renovating that building does not require building an enormous resort around it, as anyone who has renovated any of the dozens of historic buildings in Galena knows. Focusing on the Marine Hospital is simply a fig leaf hiding the naked reality of his desire to build a huge commercial development that will attract as many people as he can fit on-site.
Please help the cause by making a donation in any amount you can. Contributed funds are to be used to defray costs of signs, ads, and other expenses related to outreach and information, as well as to obtain professional guidance on the city process steps (such as annexation, final plan review and decision) and options for getting to a better outcome. Checks can be sent to "Park the Parker," P.O. Box 311, Galena, IL 61036
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