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Planning and Development - Division of Planning, Zoning and Land Use

Glossary Of Terms

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Please note: Definitions in this glossary are stated in plain language for easier understanding. Please refer to the McHenry County Zoning Ordinance for more precise definitions, where applicable 





Adjoining property owner

The owner of a property that touches the subject parcel. This includes property that would touch if property lines were extended across a public road, street, alley, or any other public way.

Administrative Variation

This is a procedure to grant a minor 10 percent deviation from a development standard, such as a setback, height, et cetera. (More...)  See also "Variation" below

Affidavit of mailing

This is a document which attests that all noticing requirements of the Unified Development Ordinance have been met (i.e. certified letters have been sent to adjoining property owners and interested official bodies within the proper time frame). A memorandum or affidavit of mailing will be prepared and filed by County staff to confirm that the noticing has met all requirements.  

Affidavit of posting

This is a document in which a petitioner attests that all posting requirements of the Unified Development Ordinance have been met (i.e. a zoning sign was placed on the subject parcel along the principal road frontage within the proper time frame).






This term is typically used to describe whether or not a parcel can be improved with a residence. The Department of Planning and Development can examine a parcel’s history to determine if it meets the legal requirements of the Unified Development Ordinance and the State Plat Act. This determination of buildability, however, does not address whether or not soils on the parcel can support a septic system, if a well can be placed on the parcel, or if it is in a flood hazard area or wetland. So, while a parcel can posses the legal rights to be “buildable,” there may still be site-specific factors which make constructing a residence impossible.





Certified mail

A U.S. Post Office service whereby, for a special fee, a letter’s addressor receives a receipt stamped with the date of the mailing, the letter must be signed by the addressee before final delivery, and the addressee-signed card is returned to the addressor as proof of receipt.

Code Enforcement Officer

 Personnel designated by the McHenry County Board as the employee responsible for enforcing and administering the requirements of the Building Codes, the Stormwater Management Ordinance, and the Unified Development Ordinance. 

Comprehensive Plan
See the McHenry County 2030 Comprehensive Plan.  

Conditional use

A use which, because of its unique characteristics, cannot be classified in any particular zoning district. Conditional use requests are heard by the Zoning Board of Appeals before being put forth to the County Board for the final vote. Restrictions are typically placed on the use (in the form of conditions) that limit potential harmful effects of such a use in a given location.

County Board
See McHenry County Board

Court reporting service

The service agency contracted by McHenry County to record public hearings and produce a true and accurate transcription of the proceedings.





Fee schedule for petitions
In order for a petition submittal to be accepted by the Zoning Coordinator, it must include the fee for the type of zoning action requested. The fee schedule for petitions dictates the fees. All fees are approved by the County Board.  ( Download the Fee Schedule ...





Governmental bodies
See Interested official bodies.





Hearing date

A date, time, and location at which a public hearing is held before the Zoning Board of Appeals or McHenry County Hearing Officer. Public hearings are subject to the Illinois Open Meetings Act, and as such, open to the public, who may ask questions or make comments during the proceedings.





Illinois Freedom of Information Act

This law is intended to open government to all citizens by guaranteeing access to governmental records in whatever form they are maintained. The law states that, “…it is declared to be the public policy of the State of Illinois that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government […] Such access is necessary to enable the people to fulfill their duties of discussing public issues fully and freely, making informed political judgments and monitoring government to ensure that it is being conducted in the public interest.”  (For more information, visit the State of Illinois – Office of the Attorney General's website.)  

Illinois Open Meetings Act

A law of the State of Illinois that dictates rules and procedures of certain government activities. It states that, “in order that the people shall be informed, the General Assembly finds and declares that it is the intent of this Act to ensure that the actions of public bodies be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.” (For more information, visit the State of Illinois – Office of the Attorney General's website.)  

Interested official bodies

Government bodies that are required to receive notice of a public hearing for a zoning petition. They are: the McHenry County Conservation District, McHenry County College, all municipalities within 1 ½ miles of the subject parcel, all fire protection and school districts covering the subject parcel, and the highway commissioner(s) and supervisor(s) for the township(s) in which the subject parcel is located.




Legal description

Also sometimes referred to as a “legal,” this is a description of the subject property’s boundaries. A land surveyor will include the legal description on the Plat of Survey.

Legal notice of public hearing

The notice that is published in a newspaper and sent by certified mail to all adjoining property owners and interested official bodies not less than 15 days and not more than 30 days before the hearing.





Map Amendment

A zoning amendment that changes the zoning district that is applied to a lot or parcel.  

McHenry County Board

The McHenry County Board is comprised of 24 elected officials representing six districts of McHenry County. Any zoning change, conditional use, or variation must ultimately be approved by this body. (also, County Board)

McHenry County Hearing Officer (MCHO)

The official appointed by the McHenry County Board to conduct public hearings and make recommendations on variation requests. The MCHO is an advisory body. It is the County Board that ultimately approves or denies a variation request.  ( More...

MCHO Rules and Procedures
A supplement to the McHenry County Unified Development Ordinance that lays out the rules and procedures that the MCHO must follow. (Download the MCHO Rules and Procedures (19 KB) .)

McHenry County 2030 Comprehensive Plan

The 2030 Comprehensive Plan is the County Board approved document designed to guide land use decisions for unincorporated McHenry County.  (Prior versions of the Comprehensive Plan have been called the McHenry County Land Use Plan.)   

McHenry-Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District

The original agency was created in 1947 under the Soil and Water Conservation Districts Act, which directs the agency to assist in conserving and protecting the land, water, air and other resources of the state. Zoning petition applications must be reviewed by the agency, which then produces a Natural Resources Inventory (NRI) report or letter. (For more information visit the McHenry-Lake County SWCD website.)

McHenry County Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) 

This ordinance establishes the powers of the McHenry County Board to regulate land use and development as granted under Illinois state law. The UDO regulations cover zoning, subdivisions, planned unit development, conservation design, site development and standards, signs, addressing, earth extraction standards and monitoring, wireless telecommunications, wind energy systems, temporary uses, and agritourism among others.  The UDO also addresses the processes for review, such as zoning reclassifications, conditional uses, or variations as well as site development and subdivision reviews.  The authority and powers of legislative and administrative bodies are spelled out, including the McHenry County Board, McHenry County Hearing Officer, the Planning and Development Committee, the Staff Plat Review Committee, the Zoning Board of Appeals, as well as County staff and others.  ( More ... )  

McHenry County Zoning Ordinance

This 2000 McHenry County Zoning Ordinance was replaced by the Unified Development Ordinance, effective 2014 October 22nd. 





Non-Conforming Uses, Lots, and Structures 

Non-Conformities (also called "grandfathered" uses) are defined in the Zoning Ordinance. Generally speaking, non-conforming lots remain buildable (insofar as zoning regulations are concerned – subject to bulk development standards, such as setbacks and height limits); non-conforming structures can be maintained, but limits to re-building may apply, and non-conforming uses may continue if they have not been abandoned for a specified period.  For details, see the County Code.  For rules regarding the ability to rebuild non-conforming structures with Substantial Damage, see the 50% Rule form and instructions. Please be aware that the Stormwater Management and Public Health Ordinances also affect ability to build or re-build

NRI application

The Natural Resources Inventory (NRI) form must be completed and submitted to the McHenry-Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District as a part of any zoning petition application. That agency will then provide the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) or the McHenry County Hearing Officer (MCHO) with a report or letter containing its findings. (Download the NRI application form (23 KB).)





The document which contains the recommendation of the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) or the McHenry County Hearing Officer (MCHO).  An ordinance becomes law when the McHenry County adopts it, either by simple majority vote, or, in certain cases, by a three-quarters vote.






Parcel Identification Number (PIN) 

The unique 10-digit number assigned to each parcel in the county by the McHenry County Office of Assessments.

Petition fee

The fee paid at the time of initial application for zoning petitions.


The applicant who properly files a zoning petition application. The petitioner may be the owner, beneficiary, contract purchaser, or representative of a principal.

See Parcel Identification Number.

Plat of Survey

A document comprised of a parcel diagram and legal description. It is prepared by and contains the signature and seal of a registered Illinois professional land surveyor. 






The change from one zoning district to another as applied to a lot or parcel of land (also called rezoning). 


A statement from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) or the McHenry County Hearing Officer (MCHO) indicating a positive or negative assessment of a zoning request based on its ability to meet the standards outline in the McHenry County Zoning Ordinance as established in a public hearing.

Recommending bodies

The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) or the McHenry County Hearing Officer (MCHO), which do not ultimately decide the approval or denial of a zoning petition. Instead, they present a recommendation to the County Board.


A zoning reclassification, change from one zoning district to another as applied to a lot or parcel of land. 





Soil and Water Conservation District
See McHenry-Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District.


Employees of the McHenry County Department of Planning and Development or of other departments of the County of McHenry.

Staff Plat Review Committee 

The Staff Plat Review Committee has the power and authority to review and recommend approval of subdivision plans, plats, and site plans that meet requirements of the McHenry County Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). 


The criteria set forth in the McHenry County Unified Development Ordinance by which a zoning amendment, conditional use, or variation is considered. It is the petitioner’s responsibility to present clear and convincing evidence in the public hearing to establish that the standards have been met.






Statements of fact made under oath at public hearings.


The record of statements made at a public hearing, including testimony.





Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) 








A deviation from the zoning ordinance bulk regulations (examples include: reduced setbacks or increased building height or lot coverage), loading and/or parking requirements, and certain sign regulations. The purpose of a variation is to overcome a hardship caused by an over-generalized zoning rule as applied to a specific property. For example, a particular property may be too narrow in one area, or perhaps the topography or septic layout is a hindrance to building placement. Filing of zoning application and County Board approval is necessary. (See also "Administrative Variation" above for minor variations of 10 percent or less. )

Voting meeting

A meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) wherein a vote is taken to recommend or deny a zoning petition. The voting meeting may be held immediately upon the close of zoning petition hearing, or on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 9:30 a.m. Typically, this meeting will have multiple petitions on the agenda to be voted on.




ZBA Rules and Procedures

An appendix to the McHenry County Unified Development Ordinance that lays out the rules and procedures that the ZBA must follow. (Download the ZBA Rules and Procedures (42 KB).)


A classification system which establishes regulations and requirements governing use, lot size, building size, yards, setbacks and other conditions of use.

Zoning amendment

A reclassification, or a change in the text of the McHenry County Zoning Ordinance. (Note: the public cannot petition for changes to the zoning ordinance text.)

Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA)

A County Board-appointed body comprised of seven regular members and two alternate members that conducts public hearings on applications for zoning amendments and conditional uses. The ZBA votes to determine what recommendation will be provided to the County Board.

Zoning Coordinator (also called Zoning Board of Appeals Coordinator)

The McHenry County Department of Planning and Development staff member responsible for accepting, reviewing, and administering applications for reclassification of zoning, or granting of conditional uses, and variations.  ( More...

Zoning district

An area or areas within the unincorporated portions of McHenry County for which the regulations and requirements governing use, lot size, building bulk, yards, setbacks and other conditions of use are uniform. (Examples include: A-1 Agriculture, B-3 General Business, I-2 Heavy Industry.)

Zoning packet

A document prepared by the Zoning Coordinator that contains the rules, procedures, and other information required in the filing of a zoning petition application. 

Zoning petition

Any application to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) or the McHenry County Hearing Officer (MCHO) for the reclassification of a zoning district, or granting of a conditional use, or a variation. 

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