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Gravel mining key to McHenry County ballpark deal

A request by a local developer to dig gravel from a portion of a proposed ballpark site in McHenry County, Ill. is key to the project moving forward.
We’re now receiving more details about a proposed independent Frontier League ballpark in Woodstock, Ill. — and the details make clear exactly what’s going on.

The ballpark is really a secondary part of the story. The main part of the story is that a local businessman is using the ballpark and an accompanying county fairgrounds as leverage in his attempt to gain approval to strip gravel from 240 acres.

Tom Berryman, a local resident who owns Merryman Aggregate LLC, is asking the city of Woodstock to approve his plan to donate 35 acres of land for a new ballpark, set aside 17 acres of oak and savannah, and then mine gravel from the rest over the course of 10 years. Eventually, he says, the land will be donated to the McHenry County Fairgrounds Board for a future fairgrounds site, though the board won’t have access to the land for seven years.

Using the donated land, Peter Heitman and other investors would build a 6,500-seat ballpark costing between $10 million and $12 million in time for the 2010 Fronter League season.

Stripping gravel isn’t the most scenic of operations; some municipalities require require berms or other decorative elements be placed around boundaries to shield the practice from neighbors. It’s also a process sure to raise some objections from neighbors of the project, who will need to put up with the daily noise of scrapers and frontloaders as well as trucks hauling away the gravel. Berryman doesn’t actually own the land, and he’d need to close on a purchase after the zoning is switched away from manufacturing. And we’re guessing Berryman knows he wouldn’t get permission for a gravel pit without significantly sweetening the pot — like tying it to what’s sure to be a popular ballpark proposal.

Still, we need to wonder about the appropriateness of Woodstock as a professional baseball market. Woodstock is 58 miles from Rockford, Ill., and we can’t imagine the owners of the RiverHawks are too pleased about a new team virtually on their doorstep. And, of course, there’s a bigger issue: Woodstock proper is only 23,215 (as of 2007), and the population in all of McHenry County is 315,943 (as of 2007), with the vast majority living in the more urban eastern part of the county. While Woodstock is growing, it would have to grow a whole lot to be on a par with most Frontier League markets.

More from the Northwest Herald.

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