The County Board adopted zoning regulations in 1971 in order to promote and protect the health, safety and welfare of county citizens. Zoning regulates the uses allowed on land and the location of improvements on that land. The regulations are enacted pursuant to Illinois Compiled Statutes, Chapter 55, Section 5/5, Paragraph 12001. The unincorporated area of the county is divided into districts or "zones." Certain types of uses are allowed in each of these districts. The zoning ordinance lists those uses. Anyone building in Stephenson County should be aware of the underlying zoning on their land so that they can become aware of what activities are allowed under zoning.
Certain agricultural uses are exempt from meeting local zoning regulations, except for setback from roads, according to state law. If a citizen believes a proposed use may be exempt, it is suggested that he or she verify that possibility with the department and then confirm the information provided with legal counsel.
Permits for most construction projects are required before that construction starts. Occupancy permits are issued upon completion of the construction project, or when the use of the land changes. On residentially used land, for example, permits are generally required for most construction including new homes; additions to homes, including decks, porches and patios; and detached buildings, including small storage buildings and some fences.
The zoning ordinance is enforced by several methods. There is first an attempt to educate the citizen of the zoning requirements and to obtain their voluntary compliance. If such voluntary compliance is not obtained, a violation notice and order of compliance is issued which orders the violator to come into compliance. In cases which cannot be resolved at this administrative level, an ordinance violation suit may be filed in the circuit court by the Civil Division of the States Attorney's Office. Fines and compliance are usually sought as part of this third method of enforcement.