ON TO 2050 continues to emphasize the importance of reinvesting in our existing communities and infrastructure. In recognition that some portions of Chicago region face greater greenfield development pressure, the Coordinated Planning Areas local strategy map identifies communities that have a significant amount of agricultural or natural lands within or adjacent to their boundaries. The local strategy map identifies locations where future land use plans and development ordinances should take into account larger scale open space protection, as shown in the conservation areas local strategy map, and long-term infrastructure costs associated with expansion decisions.

Combined conservation areas

McHenry County open space.

A range of land types, such as wetlands, floodplains, forests, savannas, and prairies, provide crucial ecosystem services, habitat, and recreational amenities to the region. The conservation areas local strategy map identifies areas that may be considered priorities for conservation, and reflects county-level green infrastructure plans where they exist. This map should be used as a starting point to inform land use planning efforts on what areas should be protected and how to enhance the connectivity of natural assets. Presented here as combined conservation areas, these lands include regional conservation priorities, local conservation priorities, and other conservation opportunities. For more details on the different categories, see the Conservation Areas Local Strategy Map.

Coordinated planning area

Trees in McHenry County

As the region’s population grows, valuable agricultural and natural resources will continue to face development pressure, particularly in locations within or adjacent to municipal boundaries. The communities highlighted here have a significant amount of unprotected natural lands as well as agricultural lands within or adjacent to their municipal boundary. ON TO 2050 recommends including agricultural and natural lands in local and county plans to signal the importance of retaining these valuable assets. Including farmland and natural resources in plans encourages communities to reflect upon the lands’ contributions to local and regional economies, ecosystems, and character.

Several counties already identify extensive agricultural and natural lands in their future land use maps. While their plans acknowledge that anticipated population growth could result in the conversion of undeveloped land, much of the existing agricultural and natural land cover is anticipated to remain in its current use. These land use plans provide more targeted direction for new development in locations with or adjacent to existing infrastructure.

In addition, the ultimate form of development could minimize impacts and help maintain connectivity between larger blocks of farmland and conservation open space. Communities highlighted here can reference the Conservation Areas local strategy map to evaluate and plan for open space. Updating development ordinances enables municipalities and counties to minimize the impact of new development on agricultural and natural resources. Municipal and county governments can use a number of different strategies, including agricultural and natural resource overlay zoning districts, modernized definitions and standards relating to agriculture and natural resources, updated protection measures within subdivision ordinances, and provisions for long-term stewardship of protected open space. New development on agricultural and natural lands should be located and designed in such a way to reduce impacts, maintain ecosystem functions and the local agricultural economy, build municipal financial health, and address other community goals.

Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge (authorized boundaries)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge for land protection given the unique biodiversity in this area of McHenry County. The authorized boundaries include existing conservation lands, as well as proposed refuge conservation core areas and proposed refuge conservation corridors, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to establish by working with local landowners.