Barrington updates residents on CN rail issue, downtown development

Published: 3/5/2010 11:10 AM

A number of long-range issues, including commuter rail traffic, downtown redevelopment and pension reform were touched on at Barrington's third town hall meeting of the past 10 months.

Though resident turnout wasn't as strong Thursday as at the previous meetings last May and November, those who did attend came armed with both questions and suggestions.

Unlike regular village board meetings, the town hall meetings have not been televised in order to make everyone who has something to say comfortable about saying it publicly.

Village President Karen Darch began the meeting with an update on the legal fight against Canadian National's use of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern railroad tracks through the region and the middle of Barrington.

An exchange of legal briefs is expected to end in July, followed by oral arguments in October.

Barrington and its allied communities are hoping to show that the Surface Transportation Board did not complete due diligence in evaluating the impact of CN's increased freight train traffic on many communities.

A court decision in Washington, D.C., is expected at the end of the year or early 2011.

Darch cautioned residents against judging the full impact of CN's purchase of the EJ&E tracks by today's traffic level. All along, CN has had a three-year plan to build up to full capacity and even that has been slowed down temporarily by the economic downturn, Darch said.

She urged residents to keep informed about the fight at as well as to keep the issue in the public eye by writing letters to congressmen and newspaper editors.

Meanwhile, the village is also working to get Illinois Department of Transportation approval for "Quiet Zone" signs along the rail route to at least prohibit the trains from blasting their horns at all hours of the day.

Trustee Tim Roberts gave an update on economic development in the downtown area. He pointed to the imminent opening coming McGonigal's Pub and Park Avenue Wine Bar as signs of a renewed entrepreneurial spirit, but said the economy is still weakened to the point that many would-be business owners continue to have a hard time getting loans.

Following up on an issue from November's town hall meeting, trustees said a number of developers are still being interviewed for a potential project near the intersection of Main and Hough streets, but village trustees remain reluctant about allowing any changes to the downtown's three-story height limit.

Economic Development Director Peggy Blanchard said that despite the poor economy, the village has managed to keep its vacancy rate downtown to a modest 9 percent, most of which is in office space.

Thirty new businesses opened in Barrington last year, meaning that the village has continued to be successful in turning over vacant spaces quickly, Blanchard said.

Darch also followed up on the advisory referendum both Barrington and Lake Forest held last month in which voters expressed strong interest for pension system reform for police officers and firefighters.

A coalition of 200 Illinois communities met recently in Springfield to discuss the issue and their shared belief in the current system's unsustainability, she said.

Among the solutions they're looking into are putting new employees into a modified retirement system that wouldn't affect current workers, asking the current workers to split their contributions more evenly with their employers, and combining more than 600 pension funds statewide into a single fund.

"I think it's really a civic responsibility to pay attention to this," Darch said. "If we're not active at this level, things won't happen and the effects could be devastating."