Solar field dispute pits school district vs. Long Grove horse farm owners, residents
Members of a prominent Chicago construction firm's founding family and fellow Long Grove residents are in a dispute with a suburban school district over its plan to start a solar energy field near their properties.
Kildeer-Countryside Elementary District 96 wants Long Grove village board approval for a plan that would put ground-mounted solar panels on three acres of a 69-acre school campus near Gilmer and Diamond Lake roads. District 96 officials said the solar farm would provide about 99 percent of the electricity used at two schools there.
Superintendent Julie Schmidt said the solar field, expected to cost about $3 million to install, not only would produce money-saving clean energy, but it also would provide educational opportunities for students at Woodlawn Middle School and the adjacent Country Meadows Elementary School.
But the James McHugh Construction Co. family and the other objecting residents contend the proposal wouldn't fit Long Grove's rural character and should be rejected. The solar operation would sit near the McHugh family's 200-acre-plus Windward Farm and the Cobblestone subdivision.
While Long Grove village board members will get the final say, they have scheduled an informal workshop for Tuesday afternoon in an effort to bring the sides together to reach a compromise. The village board rejected the district's first solar proposal in June.
"I think everybody needs to move a little closer to each other," Trustee Rita O'Connor said. "Nobody is going to get everything."
District 96 has revised its plan to reduce the area for the ground-mounted panels from 4 acres to 3 acres. The new proposal also includes a higher-quality 8-foot privacy fence and additional landscaping, part of an effort to hide the project from the McHugh family's horse farm and the Cobblestone subdivision.
But McHugh family attorney Richard Ramello contended at a village board meeting this month that the farm would not be shielded from the potentially unsightly solar array.
"This is a landscape plan that is supposed to totally screen the project," said Ramello, whose clients' family construction firm was founded in 1897 and built many of Chicago's most recognizable structures, including Marina City and Navy Pier's Centennial Wheel.
Patrica McHugh, chairman of the construction firm, suggested at a plan commission/zoning board of appeals meeting last month that it could be more economically viable for District 96 to purchase solar power and use the open space bordering her horse farm for other educational purposes.
Cobblestone resident Edward Kramer said the solar project would be too close and visible to homeowners in the subdivision near Gilmer Road.
"Most of us have spent our working lives to afford a place like this," Kramer told the Long Grove village board, "and your decision will not be a part-time thing. We will live with your decision for the rest of our lives."
Schmidt noted a pair of Long Grove advisory panels -- the architectural commission and the plan commission/zoning board of appeals -- have twice recommended approval of the District 96 proposal. She said the project was "thoughtfully studied" for about two years.
"It's a great benefit educationally to our students," she said. "It's a great benefit environmentally and of great benefit fiscally."
Solar panel fields have been popping up at school districts throughout the suburbs. In September, ground-mounted panels were installed at Prairieview School in Hainesville as part of an initiative throughout Grayslake Elementary District 46 that officials say will reduce electricity costs and offer educational opportunities for children.