County Board KOs ATV special-use permit

Dave and Diane Normington must move some small mountains.

Winnebago County Board voted down the Normingtons’ special-use permit request. A special-use permit would have allowed them to keep mounds of dirt on their property, which their son, Josh, uses to practice his jumps as a semiprofessional all-terrain vehicle rider.

But County Board Member Chris Johnson (R-4) stressed the issue was bigger than the Rockton Township couple.

“This is a ‘big picture’ thing. This isn’t just about the Normingtons,” he said.

County Board Member Gary Jury (R-3) said: “We could sit here and debate all evening. (But) I would like to go ahead and call the question.”

County Board Member Pete MacKay (R-5) opposed the permit. “I would urge the defeat of this. This is something that nobody should have to put up with,” MacKay said.

When asked whether the board was being asked to regulate what’s considered normal all-terrain vehicle use, County Planner David DeGroot said, “This is a more intensive use.”

County Board Member John Harmon (R-4) said, “We cannot directly control noise,” arguing the board really didn’t have much power in the area.

Noise and nuisance issues shouldn’t be handled at the County Board level, Jury said.

In addition to noise issues, MacKay also said approving the permit would encourage others to file special-use permits for the same purpose.

Neighbors said the ATV practicing and performance more than tested their patience.

During the public comment session, attorney Kevin Frost, who represented the Luis Hernandez family, urged the board to defeat the permit. “It really does come down to one issue. That is: excessive noise,” Frost said.

Some Old River Hills subdivision residents said Josh’s pursuits have denied them peace, quiet and happiness.

“You close windows. You close doors,” Luis Hernandez told the Zoning Board of Appeals hearing April 12. Hernandez also said ATVs have caused more than just noise pollution.

Hernandez recalled the Sept. 4 crash of a Robinson R22 helicopter (according to a National Traffic Safety Board accident summary). “After (Sept. 11), you don’t know what can happen,” he said.

Josh Normington said, during the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, a friend had invited a private pilot to take aerial photos. The pilot lost control and crashed. That friend was among six to seven riders on the Normingtons’ property on Labor Day weekend.

Frost stressed Josh’s vehicle wasn’t similar to those used by others in the neighborhood. “I cannot emphasize enough (that) this is not your typical ATV,” Frost said.

But Frost said noise isn’t the only issue, claiming the continued use of the mounds of dirt as jumps would decrease property values.

Neighbor Ray Melton said, contrary to popular belief, a personal vendetta didn’t inspire his opposition to the permit. “Many (people) have made it out to be the Hatfields and McCoys,” Melton said.

He warned board members approving the special-use permit would set a bad precedent and cause enforcement nightmares. Melton said enforcing the use of a stock muffler would prove difficult for the Zoning Department. “(They are) not trained to tell the difference,” he said, referring to stock and modified mufflers.

Pete Rossi, a visually-impaired neighbor, said he and his family feel somewhat helpless. “We’re kind of stuck there. We can’t do much about the noise,” Rossi said.

Neighbor Denise Melton said she was pleased with the County Board’s decision. Melton stressed the jumps were making the noise worse. But Josh disagreed.

“The jumps don’t generate any more noise than riding on flat ground,” he said.

According to Josh, he’s been riding in an undisclosed location and will continue to do so.

“This is another case of people voting their emotions rather than the facts,” Brendan Maher said. As the Normingtons’ attorney, he asserted the question of whether the Normingtons needed a special use permit in the first place.

From the May 17-23, 2006, issue

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