Galena citizens group leads opposition to Marine Hospital project

GALENA, Ill. — As the next step approaches in the development process for a substantial lodging project in Galena, residents in opposition say their group’s fight is not over.

City Council members in February approved a rezoning request for a planned unit development for The Parker, a resort centered around the Galena Marine Hospital at 1304 Park Ave. In addition to the restoration of the hospital, the project would involve four construction phases culminating in more than 100 cottages, a vineyard, walking trails, gardens, a café building, a restaurant/event space and other amenities.

On April 25, the City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and consider an annexation agreement for about 55 acres of the proposed 80-acre development that currently are located outside city limits.

In anticipation of the council’s decision, a group of Galena residents opposed to the development formed a group known as Park the Parker.

“I think a lot of people thought, ‘It’s over. The City Council approved the rezoning and the preliminary plan, so it’s done,’” said Wendy Clark, a Park the Parker member who lives near the proposed development area. “We want to make sure people know it’s not at all done. … There is still an opportunity to change the direction of this and get to a different or better outcome.”

The Telegraph Herald was unable to speak for this story with property owner and developer David Hooten, of True North Quality Homes, and Sandra Lawrence, president of Bien Vie, the development group responsible for the project.

Park the Parker members have distributed yard signs and launched a website, parktheparker.org, listing the specifics of the proposed development and the reasons they oppose it. These include environmental impacts, safety concerns caused by additional traffic, light and noise pollution, changes to a historic neighborhood and their belief that the project does not conform to the city’s comprehensive plan and land use map.

“We aren’t opposed to and, in fact, we really support the idea of fixing up the Marine Hospital,” Clark said. “But there are a lot of examples in Galena where very large, expensive restorations have happened that haven’t required surrounding them with a huge resort.”

She pointed to DeSoto House Hotel and the former Galena High School, which now houses Galena Green Condominiums, as examples.

Paul Kolimas, owner of Cloran Mansion Bed & Breakfast in Galena, is concerned with what he views as a hasty approval process for the rezoning of the project area, as well as the project’s large scope. He also wonders whether the city needs more tourists.

“I rely on tourism to make a living, so I understand the importance of tourism to Galena and fully support it,” he said. “But currently, we get about 1.5 million visitors a year. And I … think there’s serious questions about whether the infrastructure that we have in place can simply support more and more and more.”

Galena resident and former Mayor Dick Auman said he shares his fellow residents’ concerns about safety, increased traffic and environmental impacts. He also has “many concerns” about the annexation agreement itself, particularly that it would allow outdoor dining terraces at the Marine Hospital, main building, café building and winery to exceed the normal 15% of the building’s indoor dining areas by right, rather than by permit. Outdoor entertainment also would be permitted at those four locations by right, which he feels would be a disruption to Galena residents.

“I really think if this goes through the way the developer wants it, it’s going to change Galena forever, and that really concerns me,” he said.

When contacted by the Telegraph Herald, multiple City Council members said they will take into account all comments at the April 25 meeting when casting a vote on the annexation agreement.

“People have been talking ever since it started, so I don’t know that they’ll have anything exceptionally new to share,” Mayor Terry Renner said. “I’ll just ask everybody to be patient and act in a civil manner. … People can ask for anything they want, and if they get it, they get it, and if they don’t, they don’t. We’ll just have to see how the meeting goes.”

City Administrator Mark Moran said that if the agreement is approved, council members would need to pass an additional ordinance to officially annex the property. The proposed agreement states that the ordinance must be passed within 60 days of approval of the agreement.

Additionally, developers must return to the Zoning Board of Appeals for additional public hearings before the construction of each of the project’s four phases.

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