McHenry County Board adds tougher adult use restrictions into UDO

WOODSTOCK – The McHenry County Board added tougher restrictions on adult venues to its proposed Unified Development Ordinance, pleasing critics who alleged the ordinance did not go far enough.

Wednesday’s vote came about a month after concerned citizens came forward to ask for more limitations on such uses, alleging that such establishments, besides being bad for the community, are breeding grounds for the sexual trafficking of women and girls. The amendment, carried by board member Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake, incorporated many of the changes that citizens and activists proposed at the board’s Sept. 2 meeting.

The amendment requires adult establishments to have video surveillance outside, bans minors and alcohol from the entire property and not just the building, requires its guards to be provided by a state-licensed security company, requires signs on dressing room doors forbidding entry to anyone but entertainers, and requires a sign visible to staff and customers with a phone number to report human trafficking. The amendment also requires such a business to cease operation immediately if the County Board is considering suspending or revoking its permit.

Nancy Allen with the Human Trafficking Freedom Coalition of Northern Illinois lauded the changes, and said the UDO could serve as a model ordinance for other Illinois governments. The County Board also plans to consider incorporating some recommendations that do not fit in a land-use ordinance into its licensing and permitting ordinances.

“This amended adult use section of the UDO is much stronger, and definitely an improvement over the existing ordinance,” Allen told board members.

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.

Its original version did in fact contain further restrictions on adult uses, such as allowing them only in industrial zoning and forbidding massage parlors as a permitted use, but critics alleged the county could do more. The County Board’s existing restrictions date back to the late 1990s, inspired by the opening of a nude dance club in unincorporated Burtons Bridge that flew under the county’s radar because of lax policies.

Board members Wednesday evening also made some changes to its agritourism rules to ease some restrictions, and rejected adding others.

One recommendation they rejected was one by Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock, that would have eliminated allowing food concession stands for limited agritourism operations. Dawn Peterson, whose Oney’s Tree Farm sells Christmas trees and wreaths for three weeks out of the year, told board members the rule makes no sense.

“Do any of you like going anywhere without having food or drink? Anywhere you go?” Peterson asked.

Peterson helped fight an earlier proposal to limit the size of gift shops for limited agritourism businesses to 600 feet unless the building meets modern code – her barn is 110 years old.

Among the proposed amendments that County Board members overwhelmingly rejected was an amendment by Mary McCann, R-Woodstock, to put significant limits on the ability to sell firearms on land zoned for agricultural or residential use, and forbidding it as a home occupation. Board members Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, Mary McClellan, R-Holiday Hills, and John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, called the amendment overbearing and unreasonably restrictive on the right to bear arms.

The County Board is about one-third of the way through the 66 amendments proposed by its members, and will meet again next Wednesday evening to continue its review. County Board chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, has said she wants the UDO vote to come before the new County Board is seated in December.

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