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County supports Stonehouse Park with ‘leash’

Published: Thursday, May 17, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, May 17, 2012 10:17 a.m. CDT

SYCAMORE – The DeKalb County Board voted Wednesday to keep Stonehouse Park open with a “short leash” attached.

County Board members voted, 13-8, in favor of the permit, but they warned owners that a single violation could lead to revocation. Paul Miller, director of DeKalb County Planning and Zoning, said the board never has revoked a special-use permit in his 16 years, but if complaints from county law enforcement or neighbors warrant revocation, the board can take action.

“They are close to the point of failure ... but we should give them the opportunity to succeed,” said Bob Brown, D-DeKalb, adding the county should encourage the spirit of entrepreneurship.

Charles Foster, R-Shabbona, disagreed and said the owners were given a chance and failed to follow the rules of the previous permit.

“The past violations speak for themselves,” Foster said. “Actions speak louder than words.”

Stonehouse Park, a campsite and outdoor retreat in unincorporated southern DeKalb County, has come under fire in recent months from neighboring residents for the loud music festivals and illegal activities it has brought to the area.

Owners Gregg Larson and Steve Cecchin have been through two public hearings in recent months to convince County Board members that mistakes involving noise complaints, underage drinking and building usage have been addressed. They’ve said the park is prepared for large, organized events.

But concerned residents – backed by a petition with 200 signatures – voiced opposition to the park, saying the events have attracted undesirable crowds and resulted in trespassing, littering and a general disturbance of the peace.

Some of those residents attended Wednesday’s meeting before walking out after the vote was cast.

Riley Oncken, R-Sycamore, said he sympathized with the neighbors’ concerns, but he believes the owners should get one more chance to make the park a success and neighbor-friendly. To tighten the restrictions, Oncken added an expiration date of Feb. 28 to the permit, which the board accepted.

If board members are not happy with the progress at that point, they wouldn’t have to renew it.

“We have to give them a short leash,” Oncken said.

Those who voted to keep Stonehouse Park open include Democrats Jerry Augsburger, Brown, Sally DeFauw, Julia Fauci, John Hulseberg, Stephen Reid, Ruth Anne Tobias, Anita Jo Turner, Derek Tyson and Patricia Vary. Republicans Julia Fullerton, Oncken and Jeff Whelan joined them in support.

Republicans Marlene Allen, Larry Anderson, Dan Cribben, Russ Deverell, John Emerson, Foster, John Gudmunson and Scott Newport dissented.

Democrat Paul Stoddard and Republican Jeffery Metzger were absent. Republican Ken Andersen abstained on his own accord after violating rules regarding the issue before the meeting.

Andersen said he spoke with Stonehouse Park co-owner Steve Cecchin after the DeKalb County Planning and Zoning Committee – which Andersen chairs – voted to deny the permit request.

Because the committee had rendered a decision, Andersen said he believed he was allowed to speak about the issue with those involved. But because the County Board had not yet voted on the issue, Andersen was supposed to refrain from private discussions of any sort on the issue to assure the final decision would be based solely on evidence presented during the public hearings.

While there were no specific complaints about the conversation that occurred after the planning and zoning committee, Andersen said he wanted to be proactive and believed removing himself from the decision would be the only way to assure transparency.

"I thought once the committee had made a decision that released us from that (restriction)," Andersen said. "I wasn't going to change my mind at that point."

The board also learned of DeKalb County Regional Superintendent Gil Morrison’s resignation Wednesday. Morrison submitted his letter of resignation Friday, and it was read into the official county records.

Morrison’s resignation likely will create another race in the November general election because both parties have until Aug. 29 to caucus in a candidate. Those candidates also must meet a series of statutory requirements.

Morrison had recently worked for no compensation after Gov. Pat Quinn stripped regional superintendents of their salaries in June. Salaries were restored in November after state lawmakers pegged the Corporate Personal Property Replacement tax as the new funding source.

The future of the role and funding of regional superintendents remains uncertain.

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