Rodeo controversy rides again—county tightens reins

The corner of West State and Church streets, a city-owned lot, is now the home of a community lunch area.
The corner of West State and Church streets, a city-owned lot, is now the home of a community lunch area.

Cattle and horse rancher Enrique Jaime calls them private parties, but Winnebago County officials say Jaime continues to host rodeos on his 85.9 acres at 14852 Hauley Road in Shirland Township, adjacent to the Sugar River Forest Preserve.

Jaime received a summons July 28 informing him he had 30 days to file an appearance in response to a complaint by the county.

By July 31, however, the county obtained an injunction barring an event Jaime had planned for Aug. 1.

According to the complaint, Jaime’s property continues to be used for “rodeos, cattle/horse roping, riding or penning” since a special-use permit (SUP) was denied late last year.

The property’s zoning classification, Agricultural Priority District, does not allow for public or private recreational uses without an SUP.

After learning of such alleged activities on the property in the summer of 2008, the county’s zoning department informed Jaime he was not in compliance with the zoning ordinance.

“The property has been host to horse/cattle rodeo events…on a number of occasions during the past year,” according to a report last year to board members by county staff. “The property owner has indicated that he was unaware that hosting said types of activities were/are not permitted as currently zoned.”

In a written response, Jaime argued, “The ranch events, which include horse and cattle events with cowboys, fall under agriculture, because ranching is agriculture.”

Regardless, Jaime then petitioned for an SUP in September 2008 for a “recreational facility/commercial entertainment/tourist establishment for an outdoor rodeo facility and equestrian riding trails.”

But a number of board members questioned the sincerity of Jaime’s assertion of not being aware he was not in compliance.

“Part of the problem was that the rodeo facility was tucked away where you couldn’t even see this thing,” said then-board member Jim Webster (R-2), who is now chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals. “To me, it was intentional to hide this thing from the beginning.”

Additionally, Jaime had installed bleachers, a concession stand, portable toilets and a parking area—all without the county’s blessings.

“The fact it was all done without permits and so forth,” Webster added, “I don’t like the smell of that.”

Although some board members applauded Jaime’s concept, they simply felt the property was the wrong place for such a venture.

In December 2008, the Winnebago County Board unanimously denied Jaime’s request, but board members acknowledged they probably hadn’t heard the last of complaints from neighbors.

“I’m telling you that Mr. Jaime will win in court as long as they don’t advertise or charge,” then-board member John Harmon (R-4) told colleagues. “That’s just a bunch of people getting together for a barbecue.”

Webster concurred.

“He can do it all he wants, as long as there’s no money exchanged,” he noted. “But clearly, his intent is not to have just family and friends.”

Private party, or public rodeo?

A statement from Nicholas Cunningham, a Winnebago County deputy, indicates Jaime met with Deputy Chief Dominic Iasparro in July 2008 to discuss his plans for a commercial facility.

According to Cunningham, Jaime was advised noise complaints had already been received, but Jaime thinks there’s another motive.

“They’re coming out under the pretense that they say it’s a noise problem, when it really isn’t. There is no noise problem out there,” he asserted. “They just don’t like the Mexicans coming into the neighborhood, and getting together there. That’s what my neighbors tell me.”

Jaime said he feels he’s being singled out.

“I know Scott Christiansen, like three years back, he had the same thing down at his place, the Triple C [Ranch] on Yale Bridge Road. I went to ranch rodeos, to team penning, to team roping at his place,” Jaime indicated. “He had more people than what I had coming out.”

Christiansen, who said he sold the ranch about six years ago, explained: “The big difference between what we did there and what this other one’s doing is we didn’t charge. There was no entry fee there. That was all just a bunch of people getting together.”

Also according to Cunningham’s affidavit, Jaime reported having accepted $10 per attendee as a “donation,” not admission.

During the meeting, Cunningham stated, Jaime also unveiled his plans for the Aug. 1 event, which was to include a live band.

Furthermore, a deputy who’d recently pulled over a vehicle exiting the property obtained a flier advertising the Aug. 1 event.

The flier, distributed in Spanish, translates to read: “Grand Rodeo in the country roping of the Hidden Ranch,” along with the date and contact information.

But Jaime denies having publicly advertised the get-together.

Jaime told The Rock River Times the fliers were only handed out to attendees of his July 11 birthday party to help gauge how many would be coming to the Aug. 1 event.

“It’s not a flier that I pass out or hang out anywhere,” he explained. “It’s just for the people who come in.”

According to Jaime, the parties range in size from 40-120 people.

Jaime asserted he knows all of the participants, therefore constituting a private party. According to Cunningham’s affidavit, however, Jaime acknowledged he does not know all of the competitors’ friends and relatives who attend.

Jaime indicated he stations an employee at the front gate, which is posted as private, to make sure the general public does not wander in.

“If the guy at the gate don’t know ’em, they don’t come in, or they give me a call to come up and see who it is,” he asserted.

Jaime said he doesn’t sell alcohol, but that attendees are permitted to bring their own. Food, however, has been provided for sale at previous events.

Jaime acknowledged he’s hosted three parties since being denied the SUP. But after the forced cancellation of the Aug. 1 event, Jaime said he’ll wait to see how a judge rules before scheduling any others.

“The judge is gonna have to read the statute, ’cause the statute does read, ‘no public or private entertainment allowed.’ What is private entertainment—playing volleyball at home?” Jaime wondered. “I guess the judge is gonna have to decide, what does that private entertainment mean? And whatever it is, it’s gotta be the same for everybody in Winnebago [County], not just me.”

Lincoln Courthouse Square, at the corner of South Church and Elm streets, will include a donated bust of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, sitting areas and plaques dedicated to the 16th president's ties to Rockford and Winnebago County.
Lincoln Courthouse Square, at the corner of South Church and Elm streets, will include a donated bust of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, sitting areas and plaques dedicated to the 16th president's ties to Rockford and Winnebago County.

from the August 5 – 11, 2009 issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!