Mahomet, water district in annexation dispute

MAHOMET — When it comes to zoning, the waters are roiling for the Sangamon Valley Public Water District.

This week, the Mahomet Village Board voted 4-2 to file a formal protest with the Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals against zoning changes that would allow the water district to build a new water treatment facility.

The 3.6-acre site, at 709 North Prairieview Road, is within the mile-and-a-half "extraterritorial jurisdiction" which allows the village to protest zoning decisions. According to the board, village policy requires the site be annexed in order for rezoning to occur and construction to move forward.

But the Sangamon Valley board, which applied for rezoning through Champaign County, says annexation is not in the district's interests and it will not consider any compromise that involves annexation.

The water district serves a third of village residents, as well as many residents of Mahomet Township and Champaign County, including Sadorus and Seymour. Throughout the process, water district manager Kerry Gifford and Sangamon Valley board members have emphasized the new plant will benefit many of the village board's constituents.

The new plant is intended to improve flow and storage capacity and alleviate water-quality problems during the summer months. Sangamon Valley hopes to break ground in fall 2013.

"It just doesn't seem like it's in our best interests to annex," board member Bud Parkhill said. He added that he didn't believe that remaining part of the county rather than joining the village would obstruct anyone else in the vicinity who wanted to annex to the village in the future. According to village staff, an "island" of unannexed land will block other areas from becoming contiguous to village boundaries, which triggers automatic annexation. Parkhill used a map to explain to trustees how he believes annexation can proceed in the area without the water district joining the village.

Sangamon Valley board members who attended this week's meeting said they felt annexation would open the district up to control by the village.

Mayor Deb Braunig responded that while the village would be open to discussing a merger or some other form of cooperation in the distant future, there are no plans to take over the operations of the water district.

Several village trustees said they appreciated the complexities of the issue, but also understood the importance of having — and following — consistent policies for annexation.

"Our policy is clear," Village Administrator Mell Smigielski said, noting that staff members feel it's important to be consistent in zoning and annexation decisions, and that this policy has been used many times over the years — though in relation to private development, not expansion by another government body.

Trustee Patrick Brown asked Smigielski if village policy differentiates between the treatment of governmental entities and private developers. Smigielski said that it did not.

Smigielski said the village staff believes that the Sangamon Valley water district will be forced to annex to the village whether the protest moves forward or not, since county regulations require that local zoning ordinances be met before a building permit is issued.

The fact that this is a special case lies at the crux of the water district's argument. Parkhill and Gifford said the district's legal counsel have advised that Sangamon Valley is exempt from annexation because the district is another governmental entity, not a typical private development, and that the village has no legal right to annex the site.

Gifford said the district's focus now turns to the Nov. 8 meeting of the Champaign County Board's Environment and Land Use committee, where the water district will address the village protest.

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