Wheatland Township residents soundly rejected all plans to build or lease space for a new Wheatland Township Administration Center Tuesday night, voting instead for “Option F: Do Nothing.”
It was a question that came up near the end of the meeting -- Why can't the township supervisor and assessor use space in the $3 million highway commissioner's building? -- that prompted the group of nearly 200 to vote to take no action by a landslide.
"It couldn't have turned out better," said Mike Crockett, who was one of group of residents who spearheaded an effort to pull the plug on the township board's plans to build a new $1.5 million town hall.
Options A through E allowed those in attendance at the special meeting, held at Plainfield East High School, to choose from a range of alternatives that included building new, buying an existing building, refurbishing the current township hall and renting office space.
Township Supervisor Todd Morse and Trustee Doug Haddad did not attend the meeting. Morse's wife Brenda did attend, and raised questions about the legality of the proceedings.
The groundswell to take no action began when Naperville resident Brian Blazina proposed the township sell the land at 103rd Street near Route 59, on which the new building was to have been built, and use the proceeds to update the existing facility.
His suggestion came after resident Katherine Havel and others questioned why the township could not share the facility the township highway department built three years ago on the same site as where the new town hall building was to be built.
The group had no ability to mandate that action, however, because the township and the highway department are two separate taxing bodies.
Residents from Plainfield, Naperville and unincorporated areas cast their votes by gathering near signs that represented their choice.
At the end of the night, 27 favored buying a building at 3420 Lacrosse Lane in Naperville, seven wanted to lease office space, two supported building a 3,800-square-foot center and more than 150 voted to "do nothing."
No one voted to retrofit the current town hall or to build the 7,300-square-foot building on 103rd Street, which had been approved by the township board.
Ben Nurczyk, of Naperville, said the board's plan was inappropriate given the current state of the economy.
"If I went in and told my boss I’d like a better building to work in, what do you think he’d say?" Nurczyk said.
“I think the township officials need to understand how bad things are,” he said. “Houses are being boarded up, people are losing their homes. People are losing their homes. They need to do what mom and pop are doing right now and make do with what they have.”
A space analysis committee made up of residents Crockett, Deb Holscher and Rick Peabody and township board members Joe Hudetz and Frank King spent the summer evaluating the pros and cons of all of the options. Although Crockett supported buying the building on Lacrosse Lane, he said he was pleased by how the vote went.
“I wish these people would show up at every government meeting,” Crockett said.
Holscher agreed. “I’m thrilled,” she said. “The big message is ‘We’re watching.”
Holscher and Crockett were among those who first sought to stop plans for the $1.5 million building at the annual April town hall meeting. The movement grew from there, with residents seizing the opportunity to let the public decide the issue by using a state law that once a year lets registered voters cast ballots on issues at the town hall meeting.
Holscher said the decision to table any action until the two-acre parcel on 103rd Street is sold may give residents time to revisit alternatives that until now were deemed off the table, such as having township government share space with the highway department. The space study committee estimates the site may be worth about $350,000.
Or they could use the money from the sale to retrofit the existing town hall building. An estimate obtained by the space committee from JG Rock Construction of Naperville said it would cost about $700,000 remodel the current township building on 91st Street, which was built in 1977 as a machine garage.
Peabody had doubts about remodeling the existing building, citing problems with safety and meeting building codes.
“Putting any more money into that building is putting lipstick on a pig,” he said.
King, who also favored the new building, left the room shortly after “Option F” was added to the ballot.
Brenda Morse posed a series of questions about the legality of the meeting and whether the voters’ resolution would be binding.
“Not only is it authorized, it is a model” said Chicago attorney Doug Ibendahl, who provided legal counsel for the proceedings.
“I hope this will set an example for taxpayers all over the state,” he said.
What happened Tuesday night is the thing he loves about township government, Blazina said.
“That we were able to make a change on the spot is wonderful,” he said. “The great thing about township government is that electors do have a say, we can make a change.”