Brian Kelly @brpkelly

EDWARSVILLE, IL (KMOX)-The age-old battle between development and mother nature is playing out in Edwardsville, where a developer wants to build a housing complex near Madison County’s only ‘old growth’ forest.

Cleveland-based Richland Residential has city approval to begin building the 486-bed student housing complex on New Poag Road before summer. But, SIU-Edwardsville Biological Sciences Professor Richard Essner is working to stop it and has started an online petition hoping to convince Richland to build it elsewhere.

Essner says Bohm Woods has been in the same family for generations and there are no records of any logging taking place there.

He says building a large housing complex so close to it will impact wildlife, especially the forest interior songbirds. “Many of them are threatened and endangered. They’re very sensitive to forest fragmentation and development. When you have housing developments close to forests like this, these really sensitive forest interior species just don’t nest there. They leave and go elsewhere.”

 Bohm Woods petition

Edwardsville’s City Planner, Scott Hanson, says Richland has heard the concerns and agreed to “considerable concessions” in order to buffer the development from Bohm Woods.   He says the overall site is ten acres, and Richland is dedicating about three acres to a conservation easement adjacent to the woods that will not be touched.

He points out that the city code requires a 25-foot setback, but Richland has agreed to expand that to 80 feet. “So, at it’s narrowest point it’s roughly 80 feet wide and as you get closer to New Poag Road it actually widens considerably to as much as 300 feet.”

They are also, according to Hanson, willing to turn the easement over to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for maintenance and make sure the trees and landscaping in the buffer zone are acceptable to IDNR. Richland is also making sure the trees and landscaping in the development are native to the area.

“I certainly understand the ongoing concerns about it,” says Hanson. “But, I also note that Mayor Patton has been working with them. We’ve had two meetings with them, to not only find ways to protect Bohm Woods and to find additional ways to buffer that area, but we’re also taking a larger approach and trying to find other areas to select for sensitive areas.”

But Essner says, that’s not enough. “It’s a bad idea, even with the changes that have been included. There’s lots of scientific evidence that having a development of this type close to a forest like this will have a negative impact on forest interior songbirds.”

He hopes his petition convinces Richland to pick another site. “There are plenty of sites available along the same stretch of road…but they have refused to do so because they’ve cited financial concerns.”

As of now, plans are for ground to be broken before summer and the complex to be completed by July of 2018.

(TM and Copyright 2017 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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