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Friday, Jan. 22, 2010 09:05 pm

Hazel Lane residents’ proposal rejected

City instead supports resolution to take over road leading to Hope

Aldermen approved a resolution Tuesday that urges Woodside Township to transfer ownership of Hazel Lane to the city of Springfield, despite a last-minute attempt by the road’s residents to block the measure.

Woodside Township and Hazel Lane residents have for years battled the Hope Institute for Children and Families — a nonprofit residential and educational facility for children with developmental disabilities — over the narrow, residential road, which served as the facility’s main entrance until a wider access road was built on East Hazel Dell Lane in 2004 [see “Road to court,” June 9, 2005].

Woodside and Hope signed a settlement agreement in 2006 that called on the institute to direct employees and vendors to its new entrance and to only use Hazel Lane during emergencies, but Hope officials have since alleged that the township breached the agreement by blocking the secondary entrance and by posting signs that dissuade through-traffic to the institute.

Aldermen proposed the recent resolution after Hope announced that it would not invest $6 million in on-site campus renovations unless these concerns were addressed. Hazel Lane residents, expressing fears that street traffic would increase under the new plan, submitted their own counter-proposal at Tuesday’s city council meeting.

John Myers, a Springfield attorney representing the Hazel Lane residents, told aldermen that the residents opposed the resolution, because they want to keep both their road and their residences in Woodside Township.

“The problem the neighbors have is that they’re not in the city of Springfield, so if something goes wrong with the road, they don’t have an alderman to call,” Myers said. “The alternative is to annex in, but they don’t want to do that either because they have their semi-rural lifestyle and don’t want the increased property taxes.”

The residents suggested instead that Woodside Township and the city of Springfield enter into an intergovernmental agreement, in which Woodside would continue to own and maintain Hazel Lane. However, the city of Springfield would be permitted to step in and clear the road of snow or other obstacles if needed.

Also, Woodside would be asked to remove the gate from the end of the lane and post a new sign that reads: “Hazel Lane is to be used for emergency access only to Hope Institute. Vendor and employee access is prohibited.”

While the Woodside Township board and its road commissioner Don Duffy approved the agreement, some aldermen voiced concern that it would keep the public off a taxpayer-funded road.

“I’m all for compromise and agreement, but I do agree that it continues to open the door to potentially discriminate against who can drive on a public road,” said Ward 7 Ald. Debbie Cimarossa. “That is the heart of the whole matter. It is a public road…and I think it puts the city in a very awkward position.”

Ward 1 Ald. Frank Edwards, who represents the area around the Hope Institute, also said he favored the city’s resolution over the residents’ proposal.

“It’s just a general push to keep moving forward and to come to some kind of resolve,” Edwards said.

Aldermen voted unanimously to accept the city’s resolution, which states that if Woodside Township doesn’t transfer ownership of Hazel Lane within 90 days, the city will then forcibly annex the road and its residences.

Ron Ettinger, a resident of Hazel Lane, told Illinois Times that that the residents are meeting Friday night to discuss their next move, which could include redrafting their proposal and resubmitting it to city aldermen.

“We sure hope that there’s still room for real negotiation,” Ettinger said.

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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