McHenry County Board approves Unified Development Ordinance in 16-2 vote

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board approved its Unified Development Ordinance, ending a process that began almost four years and 128 meetings and hearings ago.

Board members voted Tuesday evening, 16-2, to pass the ordinance, which replaces all of the county’s development-related ordinances and merges them into one document. The ordinance takes effect next Wednesday.

Tuesday’s vote came at the end of a fourth special meeting during which board members reviewed about 80 amendments submitted by the County Board. County leaders wanted a vote on the UDO before the Nov. 4 election and the Dec. 1 seating of new members.

Planning and Development Committee Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, said he was pleased with Tuesday’s vote. He said that people will find the UDO to be simpler and friendlier than existing ordinances – the UDO shrunk numerous ordinances totaling more than 600 pages into one, 330-page ordinance.

“I think, in time, people will realize that this makes their lives easier, not harder,” Gottemoller said.

The UDO only applies to unincorporated areas, and does not supersede municipal development and land-use ordinances. It does not amend the county’s zoning maps or change the zoning classification of any existing land parcel.

Members John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, and Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, cast the two opposing votes. Hammerand, who successfully brought constituents’ concerns to bear on several UDO provisions that were subsequently changed, has called the UDO an example of government meddling where it shouldn’t, and not enacting stricter rules where it should. Schuster has alleged that the UDO does little to prevent spot zoning, protect the environment or ensure that future development is responsible, compact, and contiguous to already-developed areas. More than 40 percent of the 82 proposed amendments came from the two members.

Gottemoller said several changes significantly improve property rights. He cited the reform of home business rules – existing ordinance significantly curtailed where in your home and on your property they could operate – and a new statute of limitations forbidding action to be taken on any violation, life safety excepted, committed before March 2005.

“There will be no more prosecuting people for something that happened in 1978,” Gottemoller said.

Other changes to the UDO were prompted by angry residents.

It at first proposed significant restrictions on the residential storage of recreational vehicles, until public outcry, mainly from residents in Hammerand’s district, convinced board members to change it. They ended up removing all restrictions, including one in existing ordinance that forbade the use of RVs as permanent housing. Homeowners near a horse racing track in Coral Township who have complained for years that it constitutes a nuisance successfully convinced the County Board to reject proposed amendments that would have softened the UDO’s tough stance on such operations in agricultural areas.

The ordinance also now defines agritourism and sets down rules governing it – the lack of a definition had stymied County Board members in the past.

Tuesday’s vote also ends a years-long moratorium on the building of off-premises electronic billboards in unincorporated areas now that the UDO imposes much stricter restrictions. The County Board in 2012 put a halt on their construction at the request of Crystal Lake, Lakewood and Algonquin, after the county received a slew of permit requests to erect them just outside of their respective city limits to take advantage of more lax requirements.

Area residents also successfully lobbied the County Board to impose much stricter limitations on adult businesses, which they allege are breeding grounds for the sexual trafficking of women and girls. Many of the recommendations suggested by human trafficking opponents were incorporated into the ordinance, and others may end up being added to the county’s licensing and permitting ordinances.

How they voted

The McHenry County Board voted Tuesday evening, 16-2, to approve the Unified Development Ordinance.

Voting yes were Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary, Robert Nowak, R-Lake in the Hills, Anna May Miller, R-Cary, Nick Chirikos, D-Algonquin, James Heisler, R-Crystal Lake, Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake, Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, Mary McClellan, R-Holiday Hills, Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake, Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake, Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills, Michael Skala, R-Huntley, John Jung, R-Woodstock, Mary McCann, R-Woodstock, and Michele Aavang, R-Woodstock.

John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, and Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, voted no.

Members Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard, Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, Sandra Fay Salgado, R-McHenry, Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, Robert Martens Sr., R-Spring Grove, and Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, were absent. Tuesday’s meeting was the fourth and final special meeting to go over UDO amendments and not a regularly-scheduled meeting.