Our view: DeKalb County settles inevitable lawsuit

Published: Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017 3:35 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017 4:07 p.m. CDT

A lawsuit seemed unavoidable when a propane storage facility was proposed for 25330 Five Points Road west of Sycamore last year.

After making the proposal go through the hearing process not once, but twice, a majority of board members chose to side with residents who opposed the development, which was proposed for 2.8 acres east of Five Points and state Route 64 by a Morris-based propane company. Residents, who had vowed to sue if the project was approved, worried the propane business would be a safety hazard and hurt nearby property values.

This week, taxpayers got the bill for the DeKalb County Board’s November decision to deny Dibble Family LLC a special-use permit to install two 30,000-gallon propane tanks on its property: A $70,000 lawsuit settlement.

All things being equal, if you're going to be sued, might as well be sued by out-of-town interests rather than the people who live and pay taxes here. But all things might not have been equal in this case.

In a suit filed in December, the company claimed – as County Board members, including Vice Chairman Tracy Jones have said – that its proposal met all of the requirements for a special-use permit, and pointed out that the county’s own Planning and Zoning Commission had recommended approval of the project. A hearing officer who recommended denying the plan had ignored the facts, the company claimed.

Despite the company’s meeting all the requirements to build such a facility in a rural area, its application was denied by a majority of board members on a 15-9 vote.

The denial elated neighbors, whose fears that the propane on the property could explode were not assuaged by any safety measures the company vowed to take or regulations that it vowed to meet in the proposal. The neighbors formed a citizens group, called Sycamore Citizens Race Against Propane Storage, and hired their own lawyer and pledged to sue if the plan was approved.

Settling a lawsuit doesn’t equate with an admission of wrongdoing, but if county board members were confident they had followed the rules, they probably wouldn’t have approved a payout.

Had taxpayers been asked whether the county should pay $70,000 to keep a business out of DeKalb County, we doubt many would agree.

What’s more, if the county’s rules and regulations on propane or other hazardous material storage are not sufficiently strict to make residents feel safe, those rules should be reviewed and, if necessary, strengthened. If they are sufficient to keep residents safe, that should be made clear to them.

At a time when government budgets everywhere are tight, there’s no excuse for throwing away money to no benefit. This will not be the last controversial development proposed in the county, and board members will have to figure out how to make a decision in line with regulations that does not require an expensive settlement.