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Rezoning, Special Use & Variation Process

What is Zoning?

Zoning is defined as the division of a governmental unit into districts, and the regulation within those districts such as:

  • The height and bulk of buildings and other structures; 
  • The area of a lot which may be occupied and the size of required open spaces;
  • The density of population; and
  • The use of buildings and land for trade, industry, residence, or other purposes. 1

ZoningMapExample Zoning Map

Zoning regulations for unincorporated Winnebago County are detailed in Chapter 90 of the Code of Ordinances of the County of Winnebago, Illinois.  In the case of Euclid v. Ambler Realty, in 1926, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that reasonable zoning is constitutional.

1 Source: Principle and Practice of Urban Planning

Sometimes citizens wish to rezone property to a different zoning to permit a land use that otherwise would not be permitted in existing zoning.  In order to permit a certain land use or waiver to the regulations, there are certain zoning requests that may be pursued.  The primary tyes of zoning requests that can be made are hereby listed below.


The three primary types of zoning petitions are as follows:

Zoning Map Amendment (Rezoning): changes the zoning of the subject property. The County is divided into agricultural, residential, commercial  and industrial districts, with several classifications in the latter 3 Districts allowing varying intensities.

Special Use Permit: allows a subject property to be utilized as a special use. Chapter 90 lists both permitted uses and special uses for each zoning district. Because of their potential effects on neighboring properties, special uses need to be carefully regulated.

Variation: allows for a waiver from the regulations of the Chapter, in instances when an unique hardship / difficulty affiliated with the land is presented. Common variations are to allow a decrease in required yard setback, an increase in the allowable size of an accessory structure, and to waive various other requirements of the Chapter.

Applicants may also apply for Appeals, Text Amendments, Planned Unit Developments (PUDs), etc. through Planning and Zoning. PUDs are granted via Special Use Permits.


Completed application packets are submitted to Planning and Zoning. Deadlines for petitions are the third Friday of each month. All applicable fees must be paid prior to the petition being added to the monthly agenda.

Staff takes care of all required notifications and types a Staff Report for each petition. The public hearings for the petitions are held the following month, at the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting. The petitioner must attend the ZBA meeting to present on what they propose doing. Others may attend the meeting to voice support or objection to the petitions. The ZBA votes on whether to recommend approval or denial of each petition.

The petitions then go before the Zoning Committee. The Zoning Committee is provided with the minutes from the ZBA meeting and the Staff Reports and maps of the subject properties. They are not to take any new testimony. The Zoning Committee votes on whether to recommend approval or denial of each petition.  Lastly, the petitions go before the Full County Board. The Board votes on whether to grant or deny each petition.


Certain tools have been adopted to consistently address each petition that comes before the County.

In the case of Zoning Map Amendments, the 2030 Land Resource Management Plan and the Land Evaluation Site Assessment (LESA) score should be taken into consideration. The 2030 Land Resource Management Plan was adopted by the County Board in May 2009, and it is a color-coded map that depicts where specific land uses should be located. The LESA score is compiled by Staff. It takes into account the Natural Resources Information Report (NRI) conducted by the Soil and Water Conservation District, as well as the proximity to municipal services and infrastructure and the nature of the surrounding area. The resulting score is a measure of how suitable the subject property is for development. The higher the score is, the more it is ideal to keep the property agricultural or undeveloped.

The Zoning Code lists standards that should be met in order to make affirmative recommendations. The Standards are as follows:


For Map Amendments (Rezonings):

  • The change to the requested zoning district provides for the citizens of the County adequate light, pure air and safety from fire and other dangers.
  • The change to the requested zoning district conserves the value of land and buildings.
  • The change to the requested zoning district lessens or avoids congestion of traffic on the public roads.
  • The change to the requested zoning district promotes the public health, safety, comfort, convenience, morals and general welfare.
  • The change to the requested zoning district protects the character and the stability of the residential, agricultural, business, and industrial areas within the County.
  • The change to the requested zoning district promotes the orderly and beneficial development of such areas.

For Special Use Permits:

  • The establishment, maintenance or operation of the special use will not be detrimental to or endanger the public health, safety, morals, comfort, or general welfare.
  • The special use will not be injurious to the use and enjoyment of other property in the immediate vicinity for the purposes already permitted, nor substantially diminish, and impair property values, within the neighborhood.
  • The establishment of the special use will not impede the normal, or orderly development and improvement of the surrounding property for uses permitted in the district.
  • Adequate utilities, access roads, drainage and/or necessary facilities have been, are being, or will be provided.
  • Adequate measures have been or will be taken to provide ingress or egress so designed as to minimize traffic congestion in the public streets.
  • The special use shall, in all other respects, conform to the applicable regulations of the district in which it is located.

For Variations:

  • Because of the particular physical surroundings, shapes or topographical conditions of the specific property involved, a particular hardship to the owner would result, as distinguished from a mere inconvenience, if the strict letter of the regulations were to be carried out.
  • The conditions upon which a petition for a variation is based are unique to the property for which the variation is sought and are not applicable, generally, to other property within the same zoning classification.
  • The purpose of the variation is not based primarily upon a desire to increase the value or income potential of this property.
  • The granting of the variation will not be detrimental to the public welfare or injurious to other property or improvements in the neighborhood in which the property is located.
  • The proposed variation will not impair an adequate supply of light and air to adjacent property, or substantially increase the congestion of the public streets or increase the danger of fire, endanger the public safety or substantially diminish or impair property values within the neighborhood.
  • The proposed variance complies with the spirit and intent of restrictions imposed by this chapter.
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