Union Grove to Dover: No way to ethanol plant; Village exerts zoning privilege to block plant plans

Union Grove to Dover: No way to ethanol plant; Village exerts zoning privilege to block plant plans

The Union Grove Village Board has reached beyond its borders in an unusual move that appears to kill the Town of Dover’s chances of hosting a new $70 million ethanol plant.

On Monday, the Village Board employed a little-used law that gives Union Grove control over zoning matters and conditional use permitting near the village limits. Because the board is strongly against the ethanol proposal, the plant may be dead on arrival.

The Village Board voted to establish extraterritorial zoning authority within 1 miles of the village limits. With a second resolution, it wrested conditional-use permitting from Racine County within that zone. Normally the county rules on conditional use permit applications in towns.

“We have put Racine County on notice that we are relieving them of the responsibility of issuing conditional-use permits,” Union Grove Village President Mark Hoefs said Wednesday.

“It’s very rare,” Hoefs admitted.

He said the Village Board, alarmed at a plan for an around-the-clock ethanol plant just outside village borders, asked its lawyer to find a weapon to use against it.

The tool she found was extraterritorial zoning, which puts Union Grove at odds with the Town of Dover. The Town Board has endorsed the ethanol plant proposal by Union Grove businessman Bob Kordus.

“We will cooperate with them,” Dover Town Chairman Thomas Lembcke said Wednesday. “We have no choice. We obviously can’t be happy with that.”

Floating the ethanol proposal and leading a group of investors is Kordus, owner of Asphalt Contractors in Union Grove. The project, if built, would be the first ethanol plant in Racine County. It would be constructed on about 100 acres, roughly one-half mile west of the Village of Union Grove on the north side of Highway 11.

The round-the-clock operation would produce 50 million gallons of ethanol yearly, or about 1 million gallons per week.

The ethanol plant would use 19 million bushels of corn annually and would produce ethanol for use in motor vehicle fuels, but also leaves distiller’s grains after the starch is removed from corn. That material makes a high-quality animal feed.

Another biproduct, carbon dioxide, would be captured and sold to the beverage industry. Kordus estimates the ethanol plant would produce 40 to 50 full-time jobs with good pay and benefits.

“I have alternative sites already,” Kordus said, but none in Racine County. “Racine County would lose out on a huge deal.”

Lembcke estimated that Dover residents favor the plan roughly 70-30. “There is opposition,” he said, “but I thoroughly believe it’s good for this community, for the Union Grove community, the school systems in this area and also there’s 40 to 50 jobs – and I guarantee you, (the employees) are not all coming out of Dover. Probably the majority will be Union Grove residents.”

As Hoefs explained, the Village Board’s actions – a joint committee of three Dover and three village residents – must be formed to make zoning recommendations to the Village Board.

Conditional-use permits will also be decided by the Union Grove Village Board, he said. Kordus apparently would require a conditional-use permit to build the ethanol plant. His chances of gaining the Village Board’s approval for his plan appear dim at best.

“I’m not opposed to ethanol,” Hoefs said. “I am opposed to the location of where it is being proposed in proximity to the Village of Union Grove.

“I’ll say 99 percent of everyone I have talked to is opposed to it.” The main concerns cited are about heavy use of groundwater, odor and traffic, Hoefs said.

“I still question why the Village Board would oppose something like this,” Kordus said. “It’s a $70 million investment – when their downtown is absolutely dying … I wonder what their master plan is that’s better than this?” He said Village Board members have opposed his plan but have not been asking him for information about it. Kordus also doesn’t believe the Village Board has the power it claims to have. “They really can’t deny the use,” he said. “All they can do is place conditions on it.”

Union Grove Village Attorney Julie Gay contradicts that belief. Conditional-use permits “are decided on a case-by-case basis,” she said.

“That’s why they’re a conditional use in the first place. Those types of developments require special consideration; they usually require a lot more information,” Gay said.

Hoefs acknowledged the strong-arm approach to deciding what happens in Dover may have hurt the village-town relationship, which recently included a joint purchase of a fire aerial truck along with the Town of Yorkville.

“I think it probably has strained relations and my job will now be to move forward and hopefully rebuild that relationship so we can work jointly,” Hoefs said.

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