McHenry County residents want tougher restrictions on adult businesses in UDO

WOODSTOCK – A number of residents implored the McHenry County Board to put tougher restrictions on adult establishments in the proposed Unified Development Ordinance.

Concerned citizens over a 45-minute span asked the County Board on Tuesday morning to delay the scheduled Sept. 16 vote on the ordinance so members can include more limitations discouraging adult bookstores, strip clubs and other sexually-themed entertainment in unincorporated areas.

Many of the speakers said such establishments, besides having negative effects on the community, are “breeding grounds” for the sexual trafficking of women and girls.

“McHenry County isn’t the place for trafficking, for pornography, for any of that,” McHenry resident Anita Parrot told board members.

The fact that the proposed UDO does contain new restrictions on such establishments did not dissuade residents’ concerns. But both of their wishes may be granted – County Board members seemed amenable to further restrictions, and it appears increasingly likely that the number of proposed amendments to the 300-page, 20-chapter ordinance will require pushing back the vote again.

This is the second meeting in as many weeks in which residents came out in force to oppose a provision in the UDO. Both cases – adult businesses and restrictions on residential storage of recreational vehicles – were the work of County Board member John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, who urged residents to attend and make their feelings known.

The UDO, which is nearing its final vote after more than three years of work and open debate, combines and updates all of the county’s development-related ordinances. The ordinance only applies to unincorporated areas and will not supersede municipal zoning and land-use ordinances.

County Board Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, took the unusual step at the start of the meeting to give the floor during her chairman’s remarks to Planning and Development Committee Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake, to clear up the misconception that the UDO weakens adult use restrictions.

The UDO restricts adult businesses to industrial zoning – under current ordinance it also is allowed in certain business zoning – and no longer allows massage parlors as a permitted use. Existing restrictions include minimum distance requirements, security guards, a ban on serving alcohol, and midnight closing hours.

Gottemoller accused Hammerand of not revealing to residents that the restrictions are in fact tighter under the UDO, and said Hammerand owes the audience an apology. Hill said after the meeting that she gave Gottemoller the floor in part to correct what she said was Hammerand spreading inaccurate information. Several audience members thanked Hammerand during public comment for bringing the adult uses language to their attention.

“To say we’re supporting of these kinds of uses is wrong,” Gottemoller said.

Hammerand after the meeting defended going to the public with the adult entertainment and vehicle storage issues, and said the public is inevitably going to find more disagreeable provisions of the UDO.

“I found matters that are grievous to the people that I represent, and it’s not even just those two matters,” Hammerand said.

McHenry County’s restrictions on adult use date back to a controversial establishment that became a major embarrassment for the County Board.

The Splash Club opened up in 1997 in a closed former restaurant in unincorporated Burtons Bridge. It was not until days before it opened that the County Board learned that it was a nude dancing establishment, when the owners began distributing fliers advertising it. The only restrictions on nude dancing at the time were in the county’s liquor ordinance, and because the owners did not plan to serve liquor, it slipped under the radar.

The club lasted only one year, and the County Board subsequently codified restrictions on adult establishments, which were further strengthened in its 2000 zoning ordinance.

Restricting adult entertainment uses can be a thorny issue for governments in the need to balance public safety – and in most cases the public’s opposition to such businesses taking root – and constitutional protections for legal adult entertainment. Both the current zoning ordinance and the proposed UDO start their adult entertainment rules with statements recognizing the First Amendment, while cautioning that county ordinance makes no intent to “condone or legitimize obscene material.”

Hill at the end of citizens’ comments promised them that their concerns on adult uses will be taken seriously. County Administrator Peter Austin said near the end of the meeting that some of the audience’s suggestions that are not a fit for the UDO may be incorporated into other county ordinances such as law enforcement.

“Your voices have been heard. Not just heard, but acted on positively,” Hill said.

The Planning and Development Committee will meet Thursday to decide how to handle the list of UDO amendments suggested by County Board members over four review meetings through July and August.

Hill said she anticipates a delay of the UDO vote, but stressed her desire for the ordinance to be voted upon before the new County Board is seated in December following the election.

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