Levin, others raise concerns over RI's land purchase

Originally Posted Online: March 28, 2013, 8:58 pm
Last Updated: March 31, 2013, 7:02 pm
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By Stephen Elliott, selliott@qconline.com

BIG ISLAND — A Rock Island mayoral candidate criticized the city's purchase of 90 acres of land close to Jumer's for potential development of an outlet mall, retail center, sporting goods store, gas station and restaurants.

About 30 people attended David Levin's media conference Thursday at the Rock Island Conservation Club, 2421 Big Island Parkway, Milan. Many were opposed to the city's development plans, including some members of the conservation club.

Mr. Levin said spending $1 million to buy the land from RiverStone Group Inc., Moline, was not in the city's best interest."There is a lack of transparency in this deal that, as a citizen and a taxpayer in Rock Island, concerns me," he said.

In 2008, Jumer's Casino and Hotel was built on the southeast corner of the intersection of Illinois 92 and Interstate 280. The city bought the approximately 90 acres at the northeast corner of Illinois 92 and Interstate 280.

"I think the citizens of Big Island, the citizens of Rock Island and the citizens of Milan ought to know what the city of Rock Island is doing," Mr. Levin said.

Jumer's is a "wonderful neighbor," Mr. Levin said. "However, what they're (Rock Island) saying about putting a big box retail component here, about putting an outlet mall and perhaps other retail shops, does not fit the goals and agenda of Big Island."

Randy Wlaskolich, president of Big Island Soil and Water Preservation Association, a nonprofit 501(c)(3), said Rock Island's proposed development jeopardizes the 10.8-mile levee that protects more than 3,000 acres of land.

"Milan is dependent on that levee holding for its survival," Mr. Wlaskolich said. "Because, if we had another flood like we had in '65 or '93, Milan is five to six feet lower in elevation to where we are here.

"We've been very mistreated by both RiverStone and Rock Island," he said. "I think a lot of people out here realize that.We're fighting real hard for our survival out here."

Myron Sergeant, a Big Island resident since 1958, doesn't want development in the area."You just never know what can happen," he said. "I don't believe there ought to be any commercial businesses out here. I can't see anyone in their right mind putting a business out there.In '65, it was under water."

"We have 110 acres out here and about 80 acres of lakes," said Jay Pienta, president of the Rock Island Conservation Club, which has 900 to 1,000 members. "We're concerned about the possible environmental impacts that haven't been talked about.

"We're talking about turning farm land into concrete, blacktop. Runoff water, is it going to affect our club? We're talking about Big Island Parkway turning into a regular freeway or thoroughfare to gain access.

"A lot of people come out here to enjoy a quiet weekend camping or to bring their kids out here with their bicycles.

"And now, without knowing what's going on, is it going to affect our membership? Because of the lights and noise and whatever they're building on that 90 acres, is it going to affect the wildlife out here?"

Former conservation club president Al Classen agreed."There won't be no peace and quiet," he said. "There'll be trucks coming in and out of here all hours of the day, and you're going to be out here peacefully camping? This is my backyard playground as far as I'm concerned."

Rock Island Mayor Dennis Pauley said later Thursday that development plans are in very early stages."We know the levee would have to be redone," he said. "We've prepared that to go to the Army Corps of Engineers for review. Once it's approved, we can move forward.

"We're not going to do anything to compromise the Big Island people and the city of Milan. Everything has to be approved by the Corps of Engineers."

Mayor Pauley said the city paid $1 million for property that was valued at $2.2 million."We look at it as an excellent opportunity. A market study shows we could get $2.4 to $4 million in sales tax. It would be a combination retail and housing with up to 45 residential units.

"Our retail vision is for a large sporting goods store and outlet mall area."

Mayor Pauley said the city receives $6 million per year from Jumer's casino revenues. With competition and new casinos likely to be built in Davenport and Bettendorf in the coming years, the mayor said Rock Island's casino revenues could drop to, "$2 to $3 million in a hurry."

Like Mr. Levin, mayoral candidate Rick Cassini also has criticized the city's plans.

"It occurs to me that $11,000 an acre for land in a floodplain is a rather steep price," Mr. Cassini said last week.

The city's proposal to modify the levee needs permission from the Corps of Engineers, Milan's village board and the Big Island River Conservancy District.


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