Opening a Can of Worms
I’m at the age now where I can walk into a room and completely forget why I’m there. One minute I’m looking for a pair of scissors to open an Amazon envelope, and the next I’m cleaning out the junk drawer because I can never find anything in there anyway. It's so annoying. Suddenly, I’m looking at the lost extra keys to the van, and I’m off to the laundry room to hang those up where they should have been sitting since we bought it in 2014. Wait, why am I here?
It’s not that I have ADD, at least I don’t think I do. With teenagers in the house, my biological clock is long past rumors of “pregnancy brain.” But this is what happens when you start digging. Sometimes you stumble into something, which leads to something else, and it just goes on and on and on. It’s like a never ending Pinterest board with ideas for the 8th grade dance you’re on the committee for. You just…can’t…stop.
And so it is with this Ski Hill proposal. There are so many layers, so many whispers and side notes, and “wait, is that what the agreement really says?” moments that it’s hard for an average person to wrap their head around it. I’m not exactly scraping the bottom of the brain barrel. I have a 4 year university degree, a Master’s degree, over 20 years experience in my professional field, and a general street knowledge of viral TikTok trends.
To start, by law, you have to post a notice of a public hearing if you intend to do anything with a piece of land. That’s usually your first indication that a new bank, grocery store or subdivision of homes is coming to the open space near you.
This sign was placed at Townline Rd and Fairfield, and another at Fairfield and 120 among all the trees and tall grasses. Traveling by at 45 mph, you’d obviously have to pull over, get out, and walk over to know what, where, and when this hearing was taking place. Shady, but like the fine print on a car commercial, this is the world we live in.
According to this sign and notice on the Village website, this meeting for June 28, 2022 was to be held at the Village Hall in downtown Round Lake on Cedar Lake Rd. Unfortunately, the Village Hall was also a primary polling place for June 28, and therefore the location for the public hearing was changed. The June 28 meeting actually took place at the Round Lake Police Department located on Townline Rd.
The sign was not changed, and it is unclear how much notice was given to the change in location online. A sign was posted at the Village Hall, so anyone who showed up at the wrong location was notified and the meeting began 10 minutes late to accomodate late arrivals. Still only a handful of concerned residents severely impacted by this project attended it. Is that legal? I don't know. Maybe? Barely? The primary was likely on the calendar far in advance of putting the signs in the ground at the ski hill site. It's like when you end up at the Dollar Tree at 8:45 pm on a Thursday evening grabbing poster board and glitter for the book report your child knew about for the past month but neglected to ask you to get supplies for until the night before its due date.
As we know, Mr. Dan Powell of CHDS LLC wishes to annex about 104 acres into Round Lake and use 83 of them to construct a year-round, family oriented skiing facility. The property will be divided into two lots. One for the ski hill and one for the future commercial development closer to the corner of Fairfield and 120.
For those wishing to do some light reading, click here to look at all 315 pages of the proposal, which was brought before the Round Lake Planning and Zoning Commission on June 28, 2022. Think Shark Tank but without the TV crew.
Let’s look at the highlights, shall we?
First, the entire Ski Hill management and operation, from the building of the actual hill, to the construction of the ski lodge, parking lot, retention pond, landscaping, and more, will be run by CHDS LLC.
I don’t know who the “qualified contractors” are, the proposal doesn’t go into details. However, according to a response from the Village put out on August 13, they will vet contractors and “do their thing” as they would with any construction project. So I suppose it's good to know that your local insurance salesman won't be responsible for putting the roof on the new ski lodge.
While the August 1 version of the proposal does lay out three phases of construction over the 10 year period, the business plan doesn’t say who will run the restaurant. Just wondering, if you’re going to custom build a 6,000 square foot restaurant and kitchen to be opened within the next 3-4 years, would you already have spoken to potential restaurateurs? Maybe? Oh well, let’s move on.
If the restaurant will open 5-7 years from now, how will we get there? I mean, is Townline Rd the access point for this restaurant? I suppose they can share the road with the trucks continuing construction for the final 2-3 years.
For those unfamiliar, here’s Townline Rd west of Fairfield where all this is taking place.
I don’t know if I’d trust a fat man on a bicycle up and down this road, let alone 150 trucks a day 5.5 days a week. As it is, the road is a dead end, so a cul de sac needs to be constructed so that the trucks can turn themselves around once they get down there. Now, the Village says Townline Rd will be patched throughout the construction of the Ski Hill. Sorry, but I’m envisioning it will be like Nippersink Rd--you know where I’m talking about, the part where your entire frame drops out from under you, and you beg God to spare your poor car because you don't have time or money for a new one as you weave your way from 134 toward Fish Lake Rd.
Here’s the drawing of what the Ski Hill plan looks like.
Now, it looks great, I’m sure. The little gray square at the bottom right is the parking lot. The brown rectangle is the ski lodge and restaurant. I guess you can sit out on the patio and enjoy the views of…the traffic on Fairfield? Maybe when you’re at the top of the mountain, you can look out at Baxter or the dirt pile at Wilson Rd and marvel at its beauty.
According to the business plan submitted by Mr. Powell, the skiing, snowboarding and tubing will take place across 60 acres of terrain (pg. 45). Now, I’m not a math genius, but I know how to ask Google math questions. Sixty acres are 2,631,600 square feet. As you may recall, the pricing index from Snowflex.com lists the largest snow sports area at 160,000 square feet, costing somewhere between $13-$27 million.
But Mr. Powell wants to carpet 2.6 million square feet. That’s somewhere between $81.25 and $168.75 per square foot. Putting us, are you ready math nerds, at a cost of $213-$440 MILLION DOLLARS to cover the hills in Snowflex!
I’m sorry, I’ll give you a minute to stop choking on all the 0s there.
But wait, we’ll make it all back with ticket sales, restaurant customers, and ski lessons. But will you really?
Mr. Powell’s business plan, which he states does not account for inflation or the “upfront development costs” (I guess $213-$440 million is an average upfront development cost that the Village doesn’t mind overlooking), estimates the year over year net profit to be $1.13 million.
First, I hope his maintenance costs include the possible $81.25-$168.75 per square foot replacement cost for Snowflex every 5-10 years. Again, did anyone visit Snowflex.com? Anyone? Bueller?
And again, using math, we find that with a profit of $1.13 million, it will take somewhere between 188 and 389 years to break even on the initial cost of covering 60 acres of ski runs with Snowflex. I’ll be long dead, but maybe Mr. Powell, the Mayor and the Village Trustees have a plan to stick around and see this thing through.
There were other questions about this proposal when it came up for public review on June 28. So. Many. Questions. In fact, Baxter & Woodman Consulting Engineers out of Crystal Lake reviewed the proposal and supplied 76 of them to the Planning and Zoning Commission. I do not know if all of them were addressed, but many were. I do know that these were just some of the general ones:
Some items seem procedural, like permits. Others I know were fixed. For example, with number 11, the public was provided with a phase 1, 2, and 3 overview at the August 1 meeting. But there are others, such as number 6 and 12 and 14, which we know less about.
It should also be noted that Baxter & Woodman say in their comments that the Snowflex product is low maintenance and requires no grooming, which is in direct conflict with the Snowflex Product FAQs. On their website. That no one visited. Yet this is the product being highlighted as the main selling point creating this entire complex.
The final item listed in the report seems important to anyone who drives on the roads within the area.
The new Village comments from August 13 state that an additional traffic study is being done for the construction traffic, but as to when that will be completed and when or if we will see the results--that’s not known right now.
The initial traffic study submitted by KLOA indicates that 120 and Fairfield is currently a C-D rated intersection. However, the intersection is projected to be a D-E by 2028. This does not yet include the truck traffic coming to the Ski Hill with their loads of dirt. Yes, the trucks will enter the site off Townline Rd, but they have to get there first. According to the Village memo (pg. 5) from construction projects around the region. So for the immediate 5-7 years of actually taking in dirt and clay from every construction project from Harvard to Waukegan, what do you think Fairfield and 120 will look like?
Let’s talk about the water usage for a moment, as that seems to be a big deal for the residents surrounding the property in question (they use well water), as opposed to village residents supplied by Lake Michigan (those along West Townline Rd are unincorporated and have Grayslake addresses by the way).
I don’t know a lot about wells, but I do know that contamination and/or depletion of the aquifer which supplies them would upend the everyday existence of residents who depend on them.
CHDS is extending the water and sewer mains to serve the project and provide future connections to Village utilities. That's a good thing. This means CHDS will extend the lines from Jade Lane across 120 and onto the property. Both the Village and Mr. David L. Shaw, attorney for Mr. Powell, (pg. 8) state in their community response that the lodge will use village water and that the project will not require any wells.
So what was the “construction of an irrigation well” that Baxter & Woodman were talking about in question 14? Why, during the public comment on August 1, (12:30), does Mr. Powell state that “if we had to go to a well, it would be a deep well, several hundred feet.” Which is it? Are we digging wells or aren’t we?
Back up about a minute in that public comment audio, and Mr. Powell states the retention pond will hold over 4 million gallons of water, but the hill itself only requires 12,000 gallons. Does it though? Is that just the main hill or all 5?
It’s time for math class again.
Snowflex needs to be misted 12 hours a day/7 days a week. As you can see from their technical section, using 300 liters of water per minute is about 79 gallons for those of us still refusing to go metric. This is 568,880 gallons of water per day, per slope. There are 5 slopes. So we’re looking at 2,844,400 gallons of water per day. Of the 4 million gallons in the retention pond, 2.8 million are being used daily. Stop me if you’re drowning.
If you know anything about water, you know it evaporates. Not everything you spray on the hills will make it back down into the pond. That’s where the recycle rate comes in. Maybe some days it’s humid and the air is so saturated it cannot possibly suck up even one drop more. But there are also plenty of dry, windy days in Lake County, you know--out on the unincorporated farm land, where this is being built, in the middle of open prairies where winds tend to whip.
Mr. Powell claims that “85 to 90% gets recycled back into the pond”, but as you can see from the people at Snowflex, it says 70%. That means saying goodbye to 840,000 gallons of water each day. According to the audio, Mr. Powell states the water is only needed 200 days a year (you don’t use it when it’s raining, misting, covered in frost or dew). Still, losing 30% of your water for 200 days will waste 168 million gallons of water. What was that about needing a well only in emergencies? Pretty sure the 4 million gallon retention pond will be running a bit low.
But there’s no mention of using a retention pond for the water. That’s because Snowflex uses a highly sophisticated system of pipes, pumps, and tanks within the ski slopes called BritonMist, which requires a specialist to install. There’s no retention pond in Lynchburg or Branson or at any of the European ski complexes. Those complexes are built on different terrain, hooked up to water supplies differently. If you want to build a Snowflex complex here, why don't you start by going to their website, talking with their consultants, and having their professionals tell you what is and is not going to realistically work?
Oh, and one last thing. Here’s how you know the business plan didn’t include a click on the Snowflex website, much less a phone call to anyone at the Snowflex company. Even just taking a glance at the homepage, you can see they have a whole setup laid out for those interested in developing their own ski hill complex. From land requirements to management to cost analysis, the lodge, merchandising, they lay everything out for you--your entire business model is right here.
According to those present on June 28, Mr. Powell stated that approximately 150 trucks per day would be dumping at the site 5-6 days a week. He indicated it would take around 196,000 semi loads of fill to complete the project.
Hello math, welcome back. If you need 196,000 loads of dirt and have about 150 trucks bringing a load each day, you’ll need 1,307 days to build the hill. Let’s give the guys Saturday and Sunday off, and just work Monday thru Friday. Dumping 5 days a week will take 261 weeks to build the hill. We know there are 52 weeks in a year, but everyone takes off those 2 weeks around Christmas and New Year's, so we’ll go with 50 weeks. That comes out to 5.22 years of dumping to build the hill.
Ummmm. Why is this taking 10-12 years?
June 28, if you recall, was the meeting in which the proposal passed out of committee by a 3 to 2 vote. While the minutes and audio from this meeting are still not publicly available, I have spoken to someone who was there at the meeting and took notes.
For those who know me, I'm good at reporting what's happening at board meetings. Back in the day, before Facebook and 5G, I attended Big Hollow School Board Meetings like a good Catholic on Sundays. I had an email list 200 people long. I'd type up my notes as if they were my college psych class, and send them out. I was always sure to be as accurate as possible, report simply what had happened, and if I had personal opinion or comment to make, I would do so and make it clear that it was my personal feedback on the situation.
As my children grew into middle school and the district hired Mr. Gold as superintendent, I stopped attending meetings because we finally had more transparency as parents and taxpayers in our schools.
I guess I should have paid more attention to the Village instead.
Of the 3 yes votes…
One female member rolled her eyes and made faces during the public comment when the project was questioned.
One male member stated the Village desperately needed development and revenue.
One female member had her reservations, but since the chairperson stated the committee was not actually approving anything, she agreed it could move forward, but noted some items which needed attention in the proposal.
Of the 2 no votes…
One male member had major concerns regarding this project. He felt this was the wrong type of development and that the proposal was being rushed through. Oddly enough, Mayor Kraly informed him at this meeting that his services were no longer needed and he is no longer on the committee. I’ll also note that on August 1, 2022, a new member of the Planning and Zoning Commission was named, so it seems someone’s services were needed, just not this gentleman’s.
One female member felt that having a second mountain of dirt as a “Welcome to Round Lake” sign was a bit much. She also stated she had only been made aware of the proposal 1 to 2 days earlier, and had barely had time to read, review and understand the 315 page proposal.
One member of the committee was absent.
THE VILLAGE RESPONSE
As noted earlier in this piece, the Village put out a memo attached to the agenda for Monday's board meeting. Among the standard roll call and approval of minutes, there was a response to the questions and comments made by the public from August 1.
I commend the Village and its staff for taking the time to truly listen and respond to the concerns of those who attended the meeting. It’s obvious they’ve been seeing everything on social media, and they are equal parts doing their duty to respond with factual information and downplay concerns, which governments in general are prone to do.
The Village response begins on page 5, and you can read it here. While I respect their response and appreciate their effort, as stated above, I still have serious questions about the cost, logistics, and feasibility of this project.
As for Mr. Powell’s attorney, who begins his own response on page 7, I’m not going to wade into the middle of that. Obviously, he’s going to bat for his client and portray Mr. Powell, his business, his past and his proposal as nothing but the glowing light from heaven.
On the flip side, 9 families have retained Mr. Ashman, whose properties along West Townline Rd are in the most peril. On August 1, Mr. Ashman spoke on their behalf, and he will continue to do all he can to help them stop this project from moving forward.
THE LAST LITTLE TIDBITS
The Village of Round Lake owns the corner of Wilson and 120 where CHDS LLC is currently located. It is listed as a 55.96 acre parcel. It is also listed as "Tax Exempt", so no property taxes are collected from this property. That's fine, until you put a business there. Then, unless that business is a church, you need to pay taxes like all the rest of us.
Side note--did you notice the purchase price? The Village paid $5.5 million for this land in 2007. I was busy birthing a premature baby back then, but did you also notice the transfer history? First in 2004, it's listed for $0, but somehow in 2007 it's $5.5 million. Ahhh, government. Must be nice to buy things with other people's money.
Anyway, CHDS began operating in late 2018 and the Village was obligated to inform Lake County that they had entered into a "leasehold agreement" as a portion of the nearly 56 acre property now had a business that was not tax exempt operating on it. A local resident remembers reading about it at the time. It was to be a 5 year lease, and CHDS was to landscape with berms and a retention pond. Supposedly, they would improve the corner for the next venture. How's that corner looking? Those 5 years are up in 2023.
Somehow, Lake County was not informed about the leasehold agreement signed between the Village of Round Lake and Mr. Powell of CHDS. So for the first couple years of his lease, Mr. Powell got a sweet deal with his business not having to pay taxes.
Eventually, the issue was reported, and taxes are now being assessed on the 30 acre portion with an arrangement to pay the back taxes for previous years. Are those back taxes paid? I don't know. Does Mr. Powell currently have other unpaid state and federal tax liens? Maybe. I don't know. I'm not the one about to enter into a multi-million dollar business deal with him using taxpayer money.
Public records are available for a reason. Regardless of bankruptcy court proceedings and decisions in lawsuits, Mr. Powell has been listed as a defendant in civil cases in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017…He’s a local business owner, not a mega corporation like McDonald’s who everybody tries to sue everytime they spill coffee on themselves.
Does being sued make him guilty? No. Does it make him unlucky? Maybe. Does it make him worthy of a more serious background check if you’re going to enter into a business deal that’s going to take 10 years to build, cost $440 million to cover in technology you’ve not bothered to properly research, lose 168 million gallons of water and take 389 years to break even? According to the Village, I guess not.
The Village of Round Lake is set to approve the Round Lake Ski Hill on Monday, August 15 at 6:45 at the Village Hall located on Cedar Lake Rd. in downtown Round Lake. Parking is limited. People are needed. You can also sign this Change.org petition.