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Winery ordinance to be tweaked

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WOODSTOCK – Likely amendments to a proposed ordinance allowing for wineries in unincorporated McHenry County flowed from a two-hour special meeting of the County Board Liquor and License Committee.

On Tuesday, the committee – augmented by more than half of the remaining County Board – discussed changes such as limiting hours of operation and more stringent rules regarding on-premises tasting and consumption. Because the committee already has recommended approval of the new winery classification, any changes would be proposed on the night that the County Board is scheduled to vote on it.

Committee Chairman John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake, called the discussion a productive one that went far toward addressing his concerns and those of some other board members over a proposed winery south of Hebron.

“I didn’t think that [the rest of the committee] understood that what we are doing is opening a tavern, a tavern winery, so now we’re working to turn it into a winery, which is a positive,” Hammerand said.

Blue Star Vineyard owners Jeff and Sue Pankow first requested the classification in September so they can make wine on their land southeast of Hebron. They estimate a first-year yield of 5,000 gallons, although the proposed ordinance and state law would let them ferment up to 50,000 gallons.

The matter stayed in the five-member committee for seven months, with supporters alleging that the delay, and proposals such as mandating that half the grapes come from county vineyards, were attempts by Hammerand to sink the project. The three-member committee majority of Barbara Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, John Jung, R-Woodstock, and Robert Bless, R-Fox River Grove, forced the vote last month, passing it, 3-2, against opposition from Hammerand and Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard.

The winery makes for what some board members call a chicken-or-egg proposal, given that the county’s existing zoning ordinance does not allow for wineries in areas zoned for agriculture. The issue is expected to be rectified when a proposed unified development ordinance is unveiled later this year.

Board member and former liquor committee member Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry, said he was very wary of granting the right to serve alcohol through a conditional-use permit.

“You set a scary precedent to start putting liquor licenses into the hands of people through conditional-use zoning,” Provenzano told the committee.

Randy Donley, R-Union, said he favored strict controls, alleging that the county has been all too willing to be lax about land use in the name of promoting agriculture-based tourism.

“Agritourism has made a mockery of our planning and zoning ordinances, and we don’t want to see that happen to our liquor ordinance,” Donley said.

But others saw many of the concerns raised as much ado about nothing, pointing out that wineries are a profitable and regulated business that don’t draw the trouble that bars and taverns can. Anna May Miller, R-Cary, warned the board not to shut the door on a safe and lucrative county business in an attempt to “legislate behavior” and “hide behind definitions.”

Supporters also scoffed at the idea that the winery would maintain the hours allowed liquor establishments under the existing liquor ordinance of 6 a.m. to 2 a.m.

“We’re trying to restrict anything [the Pankows] can do because we’re concerned they’re going to produce some kind of moonshine out there,” Bless said.

The County Board is expected to vote on the ordinance at its next meeting at 7 p.m. May 15 at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

What’s next?

The McHenry County Board will vote on a change to the county liquor ordinance allowing for a new classification of license to allow for wineries. In its current form, the new “class W” license would allow for a winery that could create up to 50,000 gallons a year and allow for tastings and on-premises consumption.

The board next meets at 7 p.m. May 15 at the county Administration Building, 667 Ware Road, Woodstock.

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