Lee County continues talks with Amboy business owner over building violations

DIXON - The county is continuing to try to reach a solution with an Amboy businessman who officials say expanded business operations for years without proper permitting or zoning.

In March, Lee County Zoning Administrator Dee Duffy presented information to the Lee County Zoning Board that Jerad Zellhofer, owner of Triple Z LLC and ZBest Enterprises at 1749 Winding Road, has 20,884 square feet of buildings on his property, but legal permits for only about half that space – 10,695 square feet.

Zellhofer started with a lawn and landscaping business that was allowed on agriculturally zoned land 22 years ago, but expanded to steel roofing and construction for agricultural buildings about a decade ago. He said he didn’t deny operating a commercial industrial business on agriculturally zoned land, but he didn’t intentionally violate the rules.

The board is most concerned with the zoning violations, for having a manufacturing operation on land without an industrial zone or special-use permit to do so. The board gave Zellhofer a month to come up with a proposal to move his business, and it turned into two months following a COVID-19 outbreak at the old Lee County Courthouse.

Originally, Zellhofer suggested moving to a former railroad land zoned industrial off of U.S. Route 52 southeast of Amboy. He owns 7.6 acres and was intending to purchase another adjacent strip of land, but the deal fell through. He had also said that much of the land was too skinny to build on while meeting setback requirements, and there are large slopes on both sides that make development difficult.

Zellhofer put together two proposals for the board. The first would be forgiveness for the violations through the county’s amnesty program, and the second would be to purchase land in Amboy and move his operations within 10 years.

He said he looked at 40 to 50 properties in and out of Lee County, and very few would work because of cost or zoning.

“The problem we’re facing with my business and hundreds of other businesses in Lee County is that there’s not enough commercial or industrial zoned properties appropriate for the current existing businesses,” Zellhofer said.

The Amboy proposal would mean buying land from the city and three landowners on property that includes the old milk plant.

The scope of work for development would be “massive” such as removing hundreds of trees, filling in flood plain areas, creating highway access and drain reconstruction, among other work, he said. Another concern is the rising cost of building materials.

“Any one of these pieces of the puzzle could fall through and reset me moving forward,” Zellhofer said. “I’m trying to come up with the best solution I can as requested...to be honest, there’s not a whole lot of options out there.”

Board member Glen Hughes said there’s no question that Zellhofer violated zoning codes for a significant amount of time, and a decade is too long to move his business. A 3-year range would be more than generous, he said.

“At this point, I’m not sure I have much sympathy for you,” Hughes said. “This has gone back a long ways.”

The level of violations over the years would equate to around $15 million for Zellhofer, Hughes said.

“You put yourself in this situation by violating the code from the start,” he said. “Quite honestly, I think to expect us to allow you to continue to violate the zoning for that property for another 10 years is a little bit absurd.”

Without a reasonable plan, the county will issue a cease and desist order and could require Zellhofer to take down his buildings, Hughes said.

Board member Mike Pratt said the Amboy proposal would be great if it wasn’t so complicated, and they want to see a plan with a timeline.

The Zoning Board agreed to give Zellhofer four months to have his plan more ironed out with benchmarks he would need to meet.

Rachel Rodgers

Rachel Rodgers joined Sauk Valley Media in 2016 covering local government in Dixon and Lee County.