Local Government

Opponents to McHenry County RV rules, horse racing prevail at McHenry County Board meeting

WOODSTOCK – The proposed McHenry County Unified Development Ordinance will go easy on recreational vehicle owners and hard on horse racing events.

County Board members at a Tuesday evening special meeting approved, in a series of votes, an amendment eliminating proposed restrictions on the storage of recreational vehicles, and rejected several amendments that would have eased tough new restrictions on horse racing events.

Both issues have brought out residents in force. Owners of recreational vehicles bristled at the proposed restrictions, and homeowners adjacent to a racetrack between Union and Marengo who have complained since 2006 about noise and inappropriate conduct from regularly-scheduled events told board members to stand their ground and keep the proposed restrictions in place.

But while opponents to recreational vehicle restrictions have dominated past meetings, much of the hour-long public comment Tuesday came from neighbors of the Poker de Ases Ranch and Training Center at 18718 W. Union Road, who said the original UDO as planned gives them much-needed and final relief.

Among them was County Auditor Pam Palmer, who spoke not in the capacity of her elected office, but as a lifelong area resident who lives about a mile from the track.

“After eight years of these neighbors having to deal with the noise … the crowds, the dust, the trash, the intimidation, the having their weekends destroyed, cleaning up messes, et cetera, et cetera, they have all been deprived of their right to enjoy their homes on the major spring, summer and fall holidays that have been taken away from them,” Palmer said.

The amendments voted on Tuesday made up four of 64 proposed to the 300-page ordinance under final review. Another special meeting has been set for Thursday, Oct. 1, to continue the review of amendments prior to a vote later this year to ratify the UDO after more than three years of work.

The ordinance, if approved, will update and replace the county’s development-related ordinances, and combine them into one document. It only applies to unincorporated areas and does not supersede municipal zoning and development ordinances.

The UDO’s final draft states that spectator sport horse racing is not allowed as a temporary entertainment event that can be sanctioned with a permit, and only allows it as a conditional use on land zoned for industry or general business.

But two amendments, proposed by board members Nick Chirikos, D-Algonquin, and Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake, would have allowed such racing as a temporary event and would have allowed conditional use for the A-1 agricultural zoning that the handful of tracks in the county now have.

Chirikos said he supported the amendment because the horse events are big in the county’s Hispanic community and part of its heritage. He alleged the fact has fueled the opposition to a degree, after he talked to residents door to door – residents during public comment over the years have stressed that spectators’ conduct, not their race, is their focus.

“It just had this bad ring to it, this feeling that they don’t want ‘those people’ in their backyard. That’s what I took most offense to,” Chirikos said.

Schofield said she introduced the amendments because she felt the issue was “worthy of debate.” She ended up supporting eliminating races as a temporary use, but unsuccessfully backed allowing them in agricultural areas as a conditional use.

Residents for years have complained that race days are filled with loud crowds, clogged roads, loud music, littering, public intoxication and public urination. While gambling is not allowed on premises, opponents said it is naive to believe that rule is followed.

“The current venue, the rural neighborhoods of McHenry County, is not the place to put on events where 1,500 people show up,” neighbor Steve Kopinski said. “These events need to be at the [McHenry County] Fairgrounds or other appropriate venues that can safely handle these kinds of crowds.”

Chirikos said he understands residents’ grievances, but alleged that many of the problems were under the old ownership of the racetrack and have decreased significantly under the new ownership that took over in 2010. But neighbors and at least one County Board member dispute that.

Board member John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, said he and his wife visited a neighbor’s house during one of the races in recent years and witnessed men throughout the day urinating in a nearby creek. Hammerand unsuccessfully tried to amend the UDO to require that the 50-foot buffer zone for any temporary event be demarcated with either tape or fencing.

But Hammerand found success in the County Board’s vote to eliminate proposed restrictions to the outdoor storage of boats, snowmobiles, travel trailers and other recreational vehicles. Under the UDO's original language, no recreational vehicles or the trailers licensed to transport them could be parked in a driveway for more than 30 days, or parked or stored in a front yard. The proposed rule also intended to limit the number of vehicles stored outside to two, kept at least five feet from a lot line.

Opponents packed previous County Board meetings at Hammerand’s request to protest the change. Hammerand’s district includes portions of the Fox River and the Chain O’ Lakes and much of Wonder Lake’s shores, and therefore a lot of boaters.

Burtons Bridge resident Tom Eckland said he was pleased that the County Board reversed course. He said the proposal was onerous and silly, especially for him and his boat and two personal watercraft, because the Fox River is a block and a half from his house.

“I think our County Board followed the wishes of their constituents to a T in their action. I’m very happy and extremely satisfied that they listened and they acted on our wishes,” Eckland said.

The County Board voted for the amendment that eliminated all restrictions, including one presently in county ordinance that forbids recreational vehicles from being used as permanent housing. Planning and Development Director Dennis Sandquist and McHenry County Department of Health Environmental Health Director Patti Nomm said their departments each receive about five complaints a year over people living in their RVs.

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