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Will County’s aerial photography debate gets new life

Will County LUse Director Curt Paddock left debates use aerial photos building code enforcement with county board member Steve Balich

Will County Land Use Director Curt Paddock, left, debates the use of aerial photos in building code enforcement with county board member Steve Balich, R-Homer Glen, after a Land Use Committee hearing. | File photo

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Updated: June 10, 2014 6:55AM



All Will County departments are allowed to use aerial photography, but an effort to restrict it in the Land Use Department will be put to a vote at the Thursday county board meeting.

Board member Steve Balich, R-Homer Glen, wants to prohibit the county’s land use staff from using aerial photos to initiate code violation complaints, claiming the use of such pictures as an invasion of privacy and a violation of property rights.

Following a May 6 public hearing, the board’s judicial committee rejected Balich’s amendment on a 4-3 vote and the issue appeared defeated after months of debate. But two days later, at Thursday’s executive committee meeting — which sets the agenda for the county board meetings — members voted to bring the issue to the full board for discussion at its next meeting.

“This is a solution to a problem that does not exist,” said judicial committee chairman Reed Bible, D- Plainfield. “They are pandering to anti-government sentiment.”

Reed said he shares concerns about invasion of privacy issues on the national level but said there are no signs of abuse by the county.

To pass this amendment would “shackle” the Land Use Department, he said. If a photo happened to detect a more serious violation, it could not be used as evidence, he said.

“It’s a very useful tool for many reasons,” Bible said.

Under current law, all county departments, including land use, can use aerial photos to initiate an investigation. But land-use investigations are primarily complaint-based, Bible said.

In a video of the judicial committee’s recent public hearing, land use director Curt Paddock said 1 percent of the department’s cases involved aerial photos as the “initiating element.”

Balich said he’s had “numerous complaints” in the past about these photos. Land Use Department staff have taken photos of property after a neighbor complained, and the photos revealed other violations that never would have been discovered, he said.

“This will prevent the Land Use Department from being accused of selective enforcement,” Balich said. “If all their violations are complaint-driven, then let’s put it in writing.”

Both Bible and Balich are expecting a lively discussion at the county board meeting next week.

“It’s become a Republican vs. Democrat issue, and I don’t know why,” Balich said. “It is not a partisan issue, it’s a people issue.”

If the county board fails to restrict the use of aerial photos, Balich said, “this issue is not going away. I will not let up.”



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