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updated: 11/7/2013 6:43 PM

Decision next month in Crystal Lake S. bleacher suit

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  • Crystal Lake South High School installed new bleachers this summer, and some residents who live on Amberwood Drive see the stands looming over their backyards, and have sued the district.

      Crystal Lake South High School installed new bleachers this summer, and some residents who live on Amberwood Drive see the stands looming over their backyards, and have sued the district.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Louis Bianchi

    Louis Bianchi


Whether a town has the power to apply its zoning laws to land used by public schools is the crux of the decision about whether Crystal Lake South High School improperly built a new, larger grandstand for its stadium this summer.

"It's a challenging set of issues ... it's a tough one," said McHenry County Judge Michael Chmiel, who heard arguments on the matter Thursday.

Attorneys for the city of Crystal Lake and for several people whose properties abut the school argued that because state law is silent on the matter, Crystal Lake has the home-rule authority to require school district plans to be reviewed by the city for their impact on neighboring properties.

Those impacts include stormwater control and whether the height of the bleachers adversely affects the homes. One of those property owners, and a plaintiff in the case, is McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi. He and his wife own a rental home near the bleachers.

The city's attorney, Justin Hansen, also argued the state specifically grants the ability to regulate land use to municipalities, in the Illinois Municipal Code.

Robert Swaim, attorney for Crystal Lake Unit School District 155, countered that because Illinois School Code specifically grants building-code supervision for school buildings to the regional school superintendents, and doesn't say anything about land-use regulation, the city doesn't have the authority to make the district run its plans past zoning officials.

"No home-rule municipality has the authority to regulate school land use," Swaim said, in response to a question from Chmiel.

"So who has authority over school property?" Chmiel asked.

"The General Assembly," Swaim said.

Chmiel then asked if the General Assembly has ever adopted a resolution regarding zoning for a specific school site, and Swaim said he did not think so.

Chmiel said he intends to decide Dec. 18.

Hansen said not allowing cities to rule on zoning-related matters for school properties would mean a school district could build anything it wanted on its property, including a stock-car racing track, if it said it was related to educating students.

The city is not disputing the quality of the construction nor the safety of the bleachers. It and the neighbors contend the plans should have been reviewed by the city's plan commission, which would have required notifying nearby residents by letter and conducting a public hearing, at which time residents could provide sworn testimony and cross-examine witnesses.

The neighbors contend the bleachers will increase flooding to their properties, and that their height -- approximately 50 feet -- will decrease the value of the properties. The new bleachers are almost twice as tall as the old ones, and more than twice as long. Including new bleachers for the visiting team, the school increased stadium seating from 2,400 to 3,800 people.

Chmiel said he suspects whatever way he decides will not end the case.

"People have told me that this is going to go south to Elgin," he said, referring to the state's 2nd District Appellate Court.

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