LAND USE PLANNING: A McHenry County Story

McHenry County, like most counties, is going through the routine of updating its land use plan and map. Land use plans and maps are intended to guide future growth in a community. McHenry County is currently operating on its woefully outdated 2010 plan and map. An attempt to do a 2020 plan was successful stopped through REALTOR® action when it became increasing clear that it did not favor a balanced growth approach. It sought a restrictive no-growth policy that was both unrealistic and impractical considering the county was one of the fastest growing in the country since the early 1990’s.

Starting from square one, a solicitation to all county residents interested in applying to be on the new county planning commission went out. Two were to be selected from each of the six county board districts. A county board member was to serve as liaison bringing the number of commission members to 13. In the end, we were successfully in placing two REALTORS® as well as adding an appraiser, a real estate attorney, and a retired developer. This institutional knowledge brought important depth and balance to the commission. This was also helpful in advancing key REALTOR® issues.

Like most land use planning processes, consultants were used, words on policy were minced, and public input was sought and given. In the end, the most critical and controversial element discussed and debated was the map. This truly is where were the rubber hits the road.

Historically speaking, 90% of growth in McHenry County occurred within municipalities—either through annexation or redevelopment. The remaining 10% occurred in unincorporated parts of the county, where residents sought larger tracts of land, privacy, and rural lifestyle. Like it or not, the county cannot legally object to municipal growth. It is important to take municipal plans into consideration and see what is realistic. Those factors may include, the age of the plan, competing municipal plans, and did the municipality over plan by simply plan up to the full mile-and-a-half of its planning jurisdiction.

Now with the remaining 10% environmental and agricultural considerations were taken into account. Was a particular area in prime agricultural soils? Was it over sensitive recharge areas? Did it include hydric soils or oak savannahs? If these were to all be used as constraints, than there would be no development options available in the county. This is where balance comes in play. Look at the surrounding land uses, the infrastructure, and examine how densities can be pushed a little higher to maximize land usage.

It is important to always keep in mind private property rights and market forces. Planners may have the best of intentions, but not always the best outcome. It is important to get involved in planning processes early and bring experts in the field of real estate to the table. This maximizes the success of the plan and its longevity.

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