County board defeats mall proposal

By Sylvia Phillips

After protests by Sycamore merchants, a proposal to sell county farm land for the development of a shopping mall was defeated by the DeKalb County Board at its meeting Wednesday, but the dispute could resurface in several months.

The motion to sell 113 acres of county farm land to New York based Wilmorite Inc. failed after falling two votes short of the 16 “yes” votes necessary for passage. Ten county board members voted against the resolution, and 14 voted in favor of selling the land.

County board members expressed concern that the $1.96 million offered for the sale of the land did not reflect the property’s value. The amount offered by Wilmorite was the same as the appraised value of the land. However, some board members said the county would receive more money if the property were open for bids.

County Board Member Joyce Nelson opposed the sale, saying the county was rushing a vote without enough background study.

By voting down the land sale, the county annually will lose at least a $1 million, said County Board Chairman Donald Lundeen, who voted for the sale. Currently, the land is rented for $17,000 per year for farming.

“I didn’t think I should stand in the way of the most beneficial financial use of land for the county,” Lundeen said. “We’ll take another shot.”

County Board Member Ron Matekaitis, who is also the attorney for the city of DeKalb said, “We’re doing a disservice to the county by continuing to withold valuable land from the tax roles.”

Members opposing the sale also expressed concern that if a purchase were approved, the city of DeKalb would annex the land and rezone the property into the Tax Increment Financing district. If this happens, other taxing bodies, such as the school district will lose revenue.

The city of DeKalb has no interest in expanding its TIF district, said 2nd Ward Alderman Michael Welsh, adding the city’s intent is to reduce the size of the district. Three other DeKalb aldermen attended the meeting.

John Rey, president of the DeKalb School Board, who favored the proposal, said, “Our projections indicated a 300,000 square-foot mall could eventually mean $670,000 in additional revenue to the school districts.”

Sycamore businessesman Gerry McLain opposed the sale of the land because of a potential adverse impact on area business. “It is a Trojan horse seeking to come into our area to destroy our business. It represents the destruction of the soul and spirit of our community.”

County Board members said sale of the county farm land for a shopping center is not a dead issue. Either the land will be rezoned or other developers will be sought for the property.

“If the property is not sold for commericial-retail, I have no idea why it is zoned commercial-retail,” Matekaitis said.

Board Member Sam Bandy said, “Now we have to go back and do it the legal way and set it out to bids.”

The county board approve 18-8 a resolution stipulating that if the land is sold, funds from the sale be used exclusively for the DeKalb County Nursing Home.