McHenry County winery proposal aging

HEBRON – Any vintner can tell you wine takes grapes, soil, water, sunlight and time.

And in the case of building a winery in unincorporated McHenry County, jumping through some hoops.

Blue Star Vineyard co-owners Jeff and Sue Pankow know something about that. They went before a McHenry County Board committee in September to ask that it create a liquor license for wineries so they could open a winery and offer tastings on their vineyard southeast of Hebron.

It was not until May, eight months later, that the full County Board approved it after several Liquor and License Committee members fed up with delays forced it forward.

The delay, combined with other required steps the Pankows didn’t anticipate, is pushing their hopes of starting up their winery this year back to a 2013 vintage.

They said they want to have everything in line to prevent giving some County Board members another shot at imposing onerous limits through the conditional-use process, such as the aborted effort to require at least half of their grapes to come from county vineyards.

“We can have the best laid out conditional-use permit, but then again, the final say is the County Board. The Zoning Board of Appeals can approve it, Planning and Development can approve it, but it still has to be approved by the County Board,” Jeff Pankow said. “We already have a past history with them, so we’re a little leery as to what they may say.”

But Planning and Development Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, said the Pankows’ delay may work in their favor, given that the county is close to finishing an overhaul of its development codes – an overhaul that allows for wineries in land zoned for agriculture.

“With where they’re at, they’re not going to [be open] this season. It may be perfect timing for them,” Hill said.

Hill’s committee hopes to have the county’s new unified development ordinance approved by year’s end. The UDO, as such ordinances are called, overhauls the county’s zoning, sign, subdivision and other development-related ordinances and merges them into one ordinance to make the rules easier to understand and enforce.

County government in early 2011 began working in earnest with Chicago-based planning and design firm Camiros Ltd. to create the UDO over a two-year period. A draft version is finished and has started to undergo review by county staff.

Hill said that while her committee would like to see the UDO approved by year’s end, the county’s Planning and Development Department says early 2013 is more likely. The size of the document, and the rewrite of the subdivision and sign components of the ordinance, require a thorough review, Deputy Planning Director Matt Hansel said.

Minor amendments aside, the county zoning ordinance was last overhauled 12 years ago. Aside from a 2008 conservation design amendment, the county subdivision ordinance dates to 1991.

“It’s an enormous undertaking. Staff has spent a significant amount of time reviewing the draft from [Camiros], and they gave us the entire draft at once,” Hansel said.

However, the Pankows are moving forward and taking their chances with going through the conditional-use permit process, and hope to have one by fall, before the UDO’s approval. The main reason, Jeff Pankow said, is they have no idea what the winery ordinance will ultimately allow or include.

They have been working with county staff to address as many potential issues as possible – they are commissioning a soil survey to satisfy stormwater concerns, and a surveyor to assess whether they need a retention area, and where to locate a septic field.

But the Pankows will take time next month to travel to the Illinois State Fair to accept the “Best in Show” award for their 2011 Frontenac Rosé.

“Sue and I, for good and bad, are a little naive as to what kind of regulations there are out there for commercial buildings,” Jeff Pankow said. “We thought it would be straightforward, but there are concerns we have to address before we apply for the conditional-use permit.”

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