Woodman’s lawsuit gets judicial change; store racing toward completion

By Gregory Harutunian For Chronicle Media

Turnout lanes from Route 12, lead to the construction site for the 240,000-square foot woodman’s foods in Lakemoor. (Photo by Gregory Harutunian/for Chronicle Media)

A civil lawsuit, filed more than three years ago, contesting a tax-increment financing district created for retail development at the southwest corner of routes 12 and 120 is essentially back to base, with the retirement of the presiding Lake County Court Associate Judge Margaret A. Marcouiller.

No timetable has been given for another justice to be assigned to the case, although the incoming judge will be starting “from scratch” with the filings and documents.

Wauconda Community Unit School District 118 filed the complaint in February 2015, immediately following the municipality’s unanimous board vote to create the designation for a 114-acre parcel which was later joined by the Wauconda District Library and Wauconda Township, as plaintiffs.

At issue is the plaintiff’s assertion that the acreage was farmland, capable of supporting cattle and corn production in adhering to its decades-long agricultural use. The village maintained the parcel was prone to flooding, unimproved, and met the definition of blighted, that conformed to state guidelines for the TIF district creation. The Woodman’s Foods and outlying retail lots will be supported by the district.

“The matter continues to be challenging, as the new judge will need time,” said Lakemoor’s Village Manager David Alarcon. “We have no idea about when a new assignment will be made. Most of the hearings have been taken up with depositions, status filings, and is ongoing. The toll in legal fees is shameful, as we estimate the school district is averaging about $40,000 per month, based on their financial statements online.”

A tax increment financing district essentially freezes equalized assessed valuation of an identified property, for a period of up to 23 years. Any tax money collected above the frozen apportionment rate is returned to a special account and applied to infrastructure improvements and other upgrades for the property, as a commercial growth incentive.

Lakemoor Mayor Todd Wiehofen said a settlement offer was made to the three plaintiffs highlighted by a lump-sum payment of $100,000 annually for disbursement and division, according to their normal tax apportionment rates. Any excess amounts, above a recapture for debts associated with the project, also would go to the entity coffers. The village also straddles the Lake and McHenry county lines.

Meanwhile, Lakemoor’s plans for a retail shopping center by summer 2019 with the Janesville, Wis.-based Woodman’s Foods as its anchor, are moving ahead quickly. The employee-owned food chain closed on the 74-acre parcel April 30, and the municipality has invested more than $10 million for site improvements, including storm water receptors, water and sewer piping that were pegged at $1.63 million.

The investment amount also includes $5.9 million dedicated for roadway upgrades to facilitate construction and future expansion.

The outer walls of the planned 240,000-square foot grocery store now tower over what was once a quiet rural landscape.

“Right now, they hope to have the roof on … by the end of January, with a soft opening timeframe by the end of summer, or early fall 2019,” said Wiehofen. “The clean water is coming from the village’s facility, roughly one mile away, and the effluent water will go to the Northern Moraine Waste Water Reclamation District in Island Lake for treatment and processing.

“Concerning the civil suit, there has been no contact from the school board, the library district, or the township,” he said. “When we filed our final motions, the judge decided to retire. Taxpayers will have more money expended to get up to speed again. They have to assign a new judge. We’re going to win this … I feel good about it. There will be job creation, amenities, and we’ll be right there as a Mc Henry County commercial gateway.”

A request for comment from Wauconda Community Unit School District 118 was not returned.

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