County Zoning Board downs ATV track special-use permit

Piles of dirt—and the sound of an all-terrain vehicle—prompted neighbors to unite against neighbors. Legal wrangling and public protest regarding Dave and Diane Normington’s use of their 10-acre Rockton Township property sent an April 12 Winnebago County Zoning Board of Appeals meeting into overtime.

The meeting adjourned around 11 p.m., after board members voted 0-6 not to recommend issuing a special-use permit.

Brendan Maher, who represented the Normingtons, said he was disappointed in the outcome. Maher said their history on the property should have been taken into account.

“There’s no question my clients were there first. The only reason my clients are here is because they piled some dirt,” he said.

According to Maher, the setback represents a lost opportunity for Josh Normington. Josh is a semi-professional all-terrain vehicle rider. He practices on those manmade hills. Josh was less than pleased with the meeting’s end result as well.

“I’m appalled. It’s absolutely ridiculous,” he said.

Josh said a “grandfather clause” should be on the books.

Dave thought the board would have been more supportive.

“I really thought it would be a closer vote,” he said.

ABATE Thunder Rock Chapter President and Legislative Officer Mike May said he was pleased with the outcome. May said the permit is unnecessary. May also said he was glad some board members questioned whether the Normingtons had a track.

Board member Ed Conklin said it was a difficult issue to tackle.

“They don’t get harder than this one,” Conklin said.

He said he was concerned about what extent the board should get involved in matters dealing with the use of private land.

The Normingtons appeared before the board to request a special-use permit. That permit would have allowed them to keep mounds of dirt on their property.

A special-use permit became necessary after the Winnebago County Zoning Department decided their set-up constituted a private “all-terrain vehicle recreational facility.”

But Maher said the County’s assertion was on shaky ground.

“I would like to state for the record that there’s a discrepancy whether a special-use is needed,” he said.

Conklin also said the question of whether the mounds of dirt make up a track remains.

Dave Normington said his family moved from a small lot in Loves Park more than 20 years ago to the property, before Old River Hills subdivision came into existence. Dave said Josh was riding regularly when the subdivision broke ground.

But some Old River Hills residents said Josh’s pursuit of his goals has cost them peace and happiness.

“You close windows. You close doors,” Luis Hernandez said, describing how he and his family have coped with the noise generated by Josh’s ATV.

But Hernandez said the noise bothers more than just his family. He said his horses run inside the barn every time the ATVs are in use.

According to Hernandez, ATVs have caused more than just noise pollution. He said the ATVs send dust through his home.

Hernandez recalled the Sept. 4 crash of a Robinson R22 helicopter (according to a National Traffic Safety Board accident summary) and how it affected him.

“After (Sept. 11), you don’t know what can happen,” he said.

Josh Normington testified a friend 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.

Maher asked Hernandez why he waited until only recently to complain. He’s owned the property since 1970. Hernandez said he felt it was Dave Normington’s responsibility to come to him.

Ray Melton said Josh’s riding area is 600 to 800 feet from his home and blocked by mature trees. Melton questioned how a special-use permit could be adequately enforced.

Rockton Township Plan Commission Trustee Tom Jencius stressed that governing body’s stance on the permit.

“We are very much opposed to special-use permits,” Jencius said.

He said the Commission opposes them because the County isn’t equipped to enforce the permits. According to Jencius, the Village of Rockton passed a resolution against issuing the permit and planned to file as a legal objector.

Denise Melton, Ray’s wife, described the noise’s effect on her family.

“We cannot get away from it. It is a nuisance,” Denise said.

She discounted the comparison of an all-terrain vehicle to a riding lawn mower.

“People don’t invite friends and family over to ride their lawn mowers,” Denise said.

According to Jeff Cote, Josh’s riding generates more noise than traffic on Illinois Route 2. The noise inspired him, Cote said, to find its source.

“I drove around and ended up in Mr. Normington’s driveway,” he said, responding to Maher’s inquiry as to how Cote knew who was making the noise.

Sally Timmerman said, before moving from Roscoe, she lived across the street from boys with all-terrain vehicles. Timmerman said they never made the noise Josh does.

Bruce Swartz objected to the special use permit. His attorney, Ray Ferguson, stressed it wasn’t out of retaliation for the Normingtons’ opposition to Swartz’s quarry.

“That’s totally false,” Ferguson said.

He said the noise, dust and other alleged violations prompted Swartz to finally complain.

According to Ferguson, if Swartz’s move was personal—he probably wouldn’t be representing him.

“I’m the attorney that put you out of business,” Ferguson said, during the meeting.

While acting as Rockton village attorney, Ferguson shut down Swartz’s quarry.

But he again stressed objecting to the special-use permit had more to do with preserving the neighborhood.

“It is totally inconsistent with the area,” Ferguson said.

“His unit drowns out most noise,” Swartz said.

Not all those in attendance were against issuing the permit. Mary Widmer acknowledged the noise bothered her, but she commended the Normingtons’ attempt to cooperate.

“If they’re willing to make concessions, I’m willing to make concessions,” Widmer said.

She noted the Normingtons aren’t the only people in the area with all-terrain vehicles and wondered why they were being singled out.

The Normingtons say what has happened to their ability to use their land as they wish is a prime example of the imposition of urban sprawl on long-time property owners.

From the April 19-25, 2006, issue

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