Reminder in Willowbrook mosque case: IL municipalities have zoning jurisdiction 1.5 miles beyond boundaries

As the Willowbrook mosque situation continues, the Village of Willowbrook clarified an important detail regarding Illinois municipalities and zoning:

Village consultant Jo Ellen Charlton said the village has decided to release a zoning map showing its area of influence for planning purposes after receiving questions from MECCA about whether it had the right to express its opposition.

A dotted line forming a box along 91st Street, just past the proposed location, is now shown on the map to indicate the village’s intention to exert influence over planning decisions in the area. Because the proposed location lies within 1.5 miles of a Willowbrook boundary line, it is considered within the village’s “planning jurisdiction,” officials said.

Even though the proposed site for the mosque is outside the boundaries of Willowbrook, Illinois law gives incorporated municipalities zoning control over land within 1.5 miles of their boundaries. This control was confirmed by a 1956 Illinois Supreme Court decision in favor of Naperville’s subdivision control ordinance, which said developers had to follow certain guidelines for streets and other subdivision features, extending to the 1.5 mile zoning boundary land. If two communities both could control the same land within the 1.5 mile boundary, either the two communities had to reach an agreement or the control would be set at a line in the middle of the two community’s actual boundaries. Land outside any community’s zoning boundaries is then controlled by the county.

This law has led to some interesting circumstances. For example, the suburb of Warrenville finally incorporated in the 1960s after many attempts because Naperville was expanding and would soon be able to control land around and possibly in Warrenville. At least several DuPage County suburbs have grabbed extra land through annexations in order to extend their zoning boundaries and therefore control land uses, particularly looking to avoid undesirable land uses.

This reminds me of a larger point: while zoning may seem arcane to the average citizen, it is a key tool communities can use and they (officials and residents) will fight hard to utilize these powers rather than let other people decide what “their land” will be used for.


Polluting power plants and municipal boundaries

Many people do not want to live near facilities like power plants, sewage treatment plants, and landfills. However, if the facility is outside municipal boundaries, there may be little citizens can do. The Chicago Tribune presents a classic example – a power plant emitting heavy pollution that draws less attention because it is just outside Chicago city limits:

From a plane, it would be easy to think one of the nation’s dirtiest power plants is within the Chicago city limits.

But the aging State Line Power Station, a major contributor to the city’s chronically dirty air, sits just a few hundred feet over the state border in Indiana, leaving it largely unnoticed and untouched during a decades-long effort to transform the Chicago area’s smog-choked history.

Protesters regularly march in front of two other coal-fired power plants in Pilsen and Little Village, demanding an end to noxious pollution that wafts into the Chicago neighborhoods. Federal and state prosecutors are suing the owner of the plants to force significant cuts in smog- and soot-forming emissions.

Yet a Tribune analysis reveals that the State Line plant, built along Lake Michigan by ComEd in 1929 and bought by Virginia-based Dominion Resources in 2002, is far dirtier than either of the Chicago plants. It emits more lung-damaging nitrogen oxide than the Pilsen and Little Village plants combined, and churns more sulfur dioxide and toxic mercury into the air than either plant.

The article goes on to say that there are efforts to force this plant to clean up. Considering the attention these kinds of plants tend to draw when located in more populated areas, its interesting that this one has received less notice than other facilities.

A note: this plant can be seen easily from the Chicago Skyway.