County delays vote on ordinance, new horse racing regulations

  • The McHenry County Board postponed a vote Tuesday on new regulations restricting horse racing in the county.

    The McHenry County Board postponed a vote Tuesday on new regulations restricting horse racing in the county. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Hernández

Updated 8/5/2014 6:10 PM

The McHenry County Board delayed a vote Tuesday on imposing new restrictions for horse racing events in unincorporated areas.

Board members have not finished reviewing the roughly 300-page proposed "unified development" ordinance, which took more than three years to draft. It primarily consolidates and streamlines existing regulations on zoning, subdivision and signage.


The board might vote on the proposed ordinance Sept. 2 or 16.

"We anticipate quite a few amendments," said county board member Nick Chirikos, who has been trying to garner support for allowing existing horse racing businesses to keep running events.

"I have not seen a compelling argument why we should be taking existing businesses away from people," he said.

Horse racing had been banned for a year after neighbors of venues complained about noise and traffic from the events. Races were allowed again last year. 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 certain industrial zoning districts.

Such racing events are not sanctioned by the Illinois Racing Board, and spectators pay an admission fee to attend. The races attract a large number of Hispanic spectators, and many Hispanic businesses run the events, typically held on farms.

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"We have a vibrant and active Latino community in McHenry County, and I think they deserve some consideration when it comes to this ... it's not so much a business, although it is, as it is a family and cultural event for people," Chirikos said.

Luis Carlos Mendez, whose family owns Poker de Ases Ranch in Union, said he has applied for a race permit for Labor Day weekend.

Mendez said a race last month drew 1,800 people. The 400-yard racetrack runs across his family's 20-acre farm at 18718 W. Union Road near Route 20 and an adjoining neighbor's 10-acre farm.

Mendez said a previous racing operation had riled up neighbors living a couple of hundred yards away.

"They had live bands playing and music blaring right at the neighbors' houses," he said. "When we bought the property in 2009, we were upfront with the neighbors and (McHenry County) planning and development, and we met with a lot of resistance."

Mendez said the county should grandfather in existing racetracks.

"It's four events a year. It's not like we are doing it every week. We feel like we are not hurting anyone hosting these events," Mendez said.

Silvia McLain, owner of Tomlin Stables, a 42-acre farm on Tomlin Road in Marengo, said one of her employees got signatures from 30 neighbors supporting her operation, which she plans to present to the county board.

"We don't have problems with the neighbors," she said. "We don't have traffic problems because my property is so large. My place is in the country. There's no streets over there."

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