When McHenry County, a suburban and rural district just northwest of Chicago, rolled out the first draft of its Unified Development Ordinance in April 2014, the Heartland REALTOR® Organization (HRO) rolled up its sleeves and got out its red pencil—so to speak. Actually, all it had to do was apply for a Land Use Initiative review, and within short order, expert legal guidance was brought to bear on the document that would be governing the growth of the county’s unincorporated areas through 2030.
According to Conor Brown, Government Affairs Director of the 1,000-member association, the application process was simple and straightforward, and the resulting review was extremely beneficial. His organization’s Government Affairs Committee was most concerned about two sections in the proposed ordinance having to do with the development of future subdivisions, an issue complicated by the county’s vast disparity in density, with mostly rural land in the west, and highly populated suburbs in the east.
In an initial conference call with Robinson & Cole, the law firm retained by the National Association of REALTORS® to undertake ordinance reviews, Brown provided background and an overview of relevant local politics. “It was a very collaborative process throughout,” he says. “After all, they didn’t want to produce a document I couldn’t use, or that wouldn’t have value to our members.”
Robinson & Cole read through the several-hundred page draft ordinance with a particular focus on the two articles governing subdivision applications and standards, and returned a 15-page report providing a concise analysis of the sections, and recommended revisions. “They identified multiple issues that were problematic, whether just plain vague and inefficient, or overly restrictive regarding property rights,” says Brown. The report offered clear guidance and concrete examples from a neighboring county, which elected officials of McHenry County would find relevant, he notes.
When Brown received the report, he delivered it directly to Joe Gottemoller, who was Chairman of the county’s Planning & Development Committee at the time, and has since been named Chairman of the full County Board. “Joe is an attorney, and an elected official we’ve supported through RPAC,” says Brown. “There’s always been a great professional rapport between him and our association, and he didn’t need to be told how to use the report: it was like being a quarterback handing the ball off to our star running back!” Gottemoller relied on the Robinson & Cole analysis as he guided the draft ordinance through a grueling review and modification process, weathering dozens of proposed amendments. It was finally approved six months later.
What HRO achieved through the Land Use Initiative review, says Brown, is an ordinance that is more consistent; preserves responsible development rights; streamlines the development process; and limits regulatory burdens. In short, “We left it a whole lot better than we found it!” he says, adding, “I would encourage any local REALTOR® association to leverage this resource, particularly if they don’t have access to good legal research.”
To learn more about how the Heartland REALTOR® Organization has contributed to local planning and development policy in McHenry County, Illinois, by making use of the REALTOR® Party’s Land Use Initiative program, contact its Government Affairs Director, Conor Brown, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-319-0943.