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Highland Council faces wrath of residents opposing senior complex

Highland Council faces wrath of residents opposing senior complex

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HIGHLAND — In perhaps the most dramatic vote in Highland's history, the Town Council on Monday voted to approve a senior citizen housing complex even as its president was still offering contingency amendments to the ordinance.

With the town expected to pay as much as $700,000 to the developer, Council President Mark Schocke, R-3rd, began offering amendments that would spare the town from these expenditures, but each amendment failed to receive a second.

As he was still presenting a fourth contingency amendment, Clerk-Treasurer Michael Griffin began calling each councilman for his vote.

In spite of yelling by an angry online audience, each councilman voiced his vote as Schocke tried in vain to finish the latest amendment.

The sometimes contentious meeting was conducted online via the Zoom platform and was viewed by at least 246 connections — not including Facebook viewers — voicing almost three hours of overwhelming opposition to the proposal from Russell Construction of Davenport, Iowa.

Voting to approve the proposal were: Mark Herak, D-2nd; Vice president Bernie Zemen, D-1st and Roger Sheeman, R-5th.

Voting against the complex were Tom Black, R-4th and Schocke.

At one point, Schocke openly implored Black to voice a second to each of his amendments, but Black remained silent each time.

Russell had a green light from the Plan Commission, which recommended that the council approve a rezoning from large lot single family to a multi-family planned unit development.

The council has the final vote on all rezoning issues.

After starting the meeting, Schocke said that it was an illegal meeting because it was called, by Herak, at the last moment on Friday just minutes before the 48-hour deadline to advertise for the meeting.

Schocke claimed this was done so there would be no time for the other councilmen to comment.

He then temporarily stepped down as president, for this meeting only, and asked Zemen, the council vice president, to conduct the meeting.

"I canceled the meeting last week because of this (proposal)," Schocke said of last week's meeting. "They are trying to ramrod this through."

Highland seniors complex clears first round

Two members of the Plan Commission spoke in support of the plan.

Family member Janille Scheeringa said there are other places in town to build the complex.

"At the time all of this came about we did not have the funds" to buy the land, she said while noting that her family now has the money to purchase it.

"We as a council need to vote down the project," Schocke said prior to the vote. "Otherwise a host of other problems will fall into place, such as Highland will be required to pay for Ernie Strack Drive, all infrastructure along the road and potentially take Scheeringa land by eminent domain" to move the road 40-feet to the south.

Schocke cautioned that these costs will be significant to Highland during a time of reduced revenue.

"If the council votes no, the Scheeringas will be able to purchase the land and keep it a farm."

Family member Joe Scheeringa said he once was told by Highland that he had to pay for his own sewer connection or he could not build his house.

He also pointed said Highland promised years ago to fill in the culverts on both sides of Kleinman, but has delayed this because of the cost.

He then compared this with the town's current willingness to pay for Russell's infrastructure along Ernie Strack Drive.

This will include a new road, curbs, sidewalks, water lines and lighting.

This agreement, supported by the previous town council, will use funding from one of the Redevelopment Commission's Commercial Corridor Allocation Areas.

Plans tweaked for proposed Highland senior citizen complex

This area covers a different section of town and Schocke has said this money should not be diverted to the farmland to help Russell.

Earlier on Monday, Schocke removed three members of the Redevelopment Commission, including George Georgeff, Bill Leep and Sean Conley.

In their place, Schocke appointed Tony Washick, Renee Reinhart and Jack Havlin.

"I have been reliably assured that the new redevelopment appointees will not support the use of allocation area funding from the Highland Redevelopment Commission to fund improvements associated with the proposed development on Cline Avenue," Schocke said.

Attorney James Wieser, representing Russell, said people have been misled and pointed out that the proposal has had a public hearing and a neighborhood meeting, which only drew a handful of people.

There is no tax abatement being requested, Wieser said, and there will be no funding of the sanitary sewer system.

"We're paying for stormwater and all the improvements," he added.

However, a resident named Margie, reminded that the infrastructure along Ernie Strack Drive would be funded by the town.

Some of the residents asked Herak for his comments, but he remained silent.

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