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updated: 7/30/2014 7:55 PM

McHenry County might restrict horse racing

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  • The McHenry County Board is expected to vote Tuesday on a new ordinance restricting horse racing.

    The McHenry County Board is expected to vote Tuesday on a new ordinance restricting horse racing.
    Courtesy of Benjamin Hernández


Horse racing soon might be allowed only in a few places in McHenry County.

The McHenry County Board is expected to vote Tuesday on a proposed unified development ordinance that includes new restrictions for horse racing events in unincorporated areas.

Horse racing had been banned for a year after neighbors of venues complained about noise and traffic from the events. Races were allowed again starting in 2013. Under the county's current zoning ordinance, horse racing is allowed as a temporary outdoor entertainment event in a number of zoning districts, including agricultural land.

With the proposed regulations, horse racing has been redefined as a spectator sport for a commercial purpose and will be allowed only as a conditional use in the B3 and industrial zoning districts, according to Dennis Sandquist, McHenry County director of planning and development.

The change would mean races won't be allowed in farm areas where they are typically held. The move has riled area stable owners who have spent years fighting such a ban.

"They are limiting it to what? For me to go to an industrial area?" said Silvia McLain, owner of Tomlin Stables on Tomlin Road in Marengo. "The idea is to have horse racing in the country ... where the people can go for a picnic."

Such racing events are not sanctioned by the Illinois Racing Board, and spectators pay an admission fee to attend.

McLain said she worked with the county before spending nearly $500,000 to build a 400-yard racing track and make stormwater and other improvements to accommodate spectators on her 42-acre farm.

"I did all the engineering for the track ... for the water to flow properly," she said. "I have designated areas for families, parking. I went by all the rules. They guided me to do everything that needed to be done."

McLain said she typically conducts four racing events during the year. A June event drew 950 spectators and participants. She has another race planned Sept. 14 but will have to cancel if the county's ban goes through, she said.

"I'm going out of my mind," she said. "I do this not to make money, but because I just love horses."

McLain added the county should accommodate the Hispanic community that has invested in land and businesses there. The races attract a large number of Hispanic spectators, and many Hispanic businesses run the events.

"Finally, the Hispanic people have something that they can be proud of and it's going to be taken away," she said.

McLain said one of her employees has gotten signatures from 19 neighbors supporting her operation, which they will present to the county board.

The proposed ordinance is available for review at the McHenry County Department of Planning and Development Office or at

The meeting starts at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the county board conference room, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

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