Local Government

McHenry County Board to vote on Fraternite of Notre Dame expansion request

French religious order seeks to add school, nursing home, brewery, winery, gift shop

WOODSTOCK – Tuesday night is decision time for the McHenry County Board regarding whether to grant a controversial conditional-use permit to an obscure French religious order that wants to significantly expand its operations in Coral Township.

After months of hearing hours of public comment from supporters and opponents, the County Board in two votes will decide whether to allow the Fraternite of Notre Dame to add a boarding school, nursing home, winery, brewery and gift shop to its 95 acres at 10003 Harmony Hill Road, south of Marengo and Union. After months of testimony before the Zoning Board of Appeals, the zoning board fell one vote short of recommending that the County Board approve it.

The vote to grant the conditional-use permit requires only a simple majority of the County Board members present for the vote, which will come shortly after the start of the 7 p.m. meeting. A separate vote to grant the fraternite a number of variances to county ordinance, however, will require a three-fourths majority, or 18 of the board’s 24 members, regardless of attendance.

The polarizing issue has galvanized neighbors and the government of Coral Township into opposing the fraternite’s expansion request.

The County Board first granted it a permit in 2005 to build a chapel, convent, monastery and bakery on the property.

Neighbors angry about the original permit are more upset about the proposed expansion, and have alleged the fraternite has not been a good neighbor when it comes to work hours and construction.

While the order maintains it is doing God’s work, specifically its mission in helping the Austin neighborhood of Chicago, opponents said adding a school, hospice and brewery will make the property a worse fit for the rural area than they allege it already is.

Many of the speakers who have come to County Board meeting supporting the fraternite’s expansion request have come from Chicago. The fraternite and its supporters have routinely levied accusations of religious and racial bigotry at opponents to the expansion, which opponents angrily deny.

Tuesday night’s debate and vote will not be run by County Board Chairman Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake,

who will recuse himself from the debate and the vote. Gottemoller, an attorney specializing in zoning and land use, represented the fraternite in its successful 2005 quest to build the retreat.

Votes on zoning matters take place before public comment as a legal protection to prevent board members from basing their votes on anything other than sworn testimony presented before the ZBA.

Fraternite Notre Dame was founded in 1977 by French Bishop Jean Marie, who claims he received divine inspiration from the Virgin Mary to do so to help the disadvantaged. The order identifies as Catholic, but is not recognized by the Vatican.

If you go …

WHAT: McHenry County Board meeting
WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock

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