Illinois County Finds Zoning Violations with New Software

Lee County, Ill., is using ChangeFinder, a software that identifies changes to building structures by comparing historical aerial photography to current photography, and it has spotted hundreds of new code violations.

by Rachel Rodgers, Daily Gazette / March 3, 2020

(TNS) — The Lee County, Ill., Zoning Department is rolling out an amnesty program for residents to become compliant after new software found hundreds of code violations.

The county now has ChangeFinder, a new software that identifies changes to building structures by comparing historical aerial photography to current photography.

When changes found by the software – new construction, demolitions, building additions, etc. – were reviewed by county staff for accuracy and compliance, they discovered a significant number of projects in violation of zoning ordinances.

Zoning Administrator Dee Duffy and the Lee County Zoning Board created an amnesty program to encourage residents to voluntarily work with the department to address the issues and avoid fines.

Violators soon will be receiving letters about the amnesty program that will contain information on how long they have to apply for a building permit or zoning petition without penalties or late fees, and the steps they need to take to become compliant.

“The county will aggressively seek compliance to building and zoning requirements, and that everyone pays their fair share of taxes," Duffy said. "We really don’t have a choice, and it is only fair to those that do pay taxes.”

Extreme violations such as property setbacks, building in the flood plain, or improper zoning will be handled on a case-by-case basis and within a time frame determined by Duffy.

In past years, the county enforced permit and code violations only if citizens filed reports or complaints about a structure, or if a county employee spotted something that was dramatically unsafe. Responding to complaints also was dependent on available staff.

Most of the complaints the zoning office receives are for new construction done without obtaining permits, which creates issues when selling or insuring noncompliant property. It also creates problems with property assessments.

“We’ve seen people not be able to sell their homes or secure mortgages because their homes were nonconforming or not built to code," Duffy said. "We’ve seen six-figure homes not appear on the tax rolls because people didn’t get permits.

"It’s time to make sure everybody is playing by the same rules, homes are built according to zoning code, and everyone is paying their fair share of taxes.”

Duffy said they've found “severe violations” including permits having been issued for garages that are now being used as two- or three-bedroom homes as well as a home built in a flood zone that was not permitted.

“The safety of our citizens and visitors, and the enjoyment of and quality of life associated with the use of property by residents and visitors, is a top priority for the Zoning Board of Appeals,” board Chairman Bruce Forster said.

“This program would benefit the community by assuring safe structures and other land use risks to our county.”

©2020 the Daily Gazette (Sterling, Ill.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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