Court fight over plan to house homeless near Lake Zurich at a standstill

Lake County Housing Authority's five-month-old court battle to overturn a decision rejecting its plan to move chronically homeless people with mental illness into a building near Lake Zurich is at a temporary standstill over a technical dispute involving residents who fought the idea.

At issue is who should pay about $6,000 for court reporter transcripts from a Lake County zoning board of appeals hearing earlier this year that resulted in rejection of the Midlothian Manor homeless plan. The zoning board of appeals contends the residents are responsible for the transcript cost.

The housing authority named the zoning panel and the objecting residents as defendants in its attempt to have the Midlothian Manor decision reversed. The zoning board of appeals and residents are expected to respond after the payment dispute is settled.

David Northern, the housing authority's executive director and chief executive officer, said he's "disheartened" the effort has been slowed by the squabble over transcripts.

"I understand that litigation is challenging and there's never a clear time frame as to how things may proceed," Northern said. "Although this process has been quite painful at times, it is essential that we receive the answers related to our asset and the ability to use that asset to help some of our most vulnerable citizens. Remember, we've owned (Midlothian Manor) since 2001 and it remains vacant when there are people with needs in our community."

Midlothian Manor, at Oakwood Road and Lakewood Lane in unincorporated Ela Township, had been used for senior housing until closing in 2010.

Housing authority officials went to court July 8 over a decision by the Lake County zoning board of appeals denying the agency's proposal to place chronically homeless residents with mental illness in the 14-unit facility. The May hearing occurred at the demand of some Lake Zurich-area residents who live near Midlothian Manor and objected to the idea.

But the housing authority's attempt to overturn the decision in Lake County circuit court stalled this fall due to the dispute between the residents and the zoning board of appeals.

Zoning board of appeals attorney Charles Smith wrote in court documents that the Lake Zurich-area residents owe about $6,000 for a court reporter's transcripts of the May hearing they demanded. The hearing ended with a reversal of an occupancy permit the housing authority needed to place the homeless in Midlothian Manor.

In court papers filed Nov. 3, the residents acknowledged in a zoning board of appeals document their responsibility for all costs associated with the hearing, Smith said. The zoning board of appeals can't file an answer to the housing authority's complaint until the residents pay to obtain the transcript, he explained.

"That failure (to pay) prevents this matter from moving forward," Smith said.

Daniel Shapiro, a lawyer for the opposition group Residents for an Engaged Community, countered in court filings that it's "illogical" for the zoning board of appeals to pass along the transcript cost to his clients.

"The transcript of the hearing, which cost approximately $6,000, is a vital component of the entire record of the proceedings under review," wrote Shapiro, who couldn't be reached for additional comment. "Therefore ... it is the responsibility of the ZBA to procure the transcript as part of the entire record of the proceedings."

The dispute over the transcripts is scheduled to be heard in Lake County small-claims court in January. Smith hopes there will be "a rather quick resolution" to the matter.

Northern said the disagreement between the residents and zoning panel is "obstructing progress in this case."

"However, I have confidence in the judicial system that the right decision will be made so we can fulfill our mission to provide housing to those in need," he added.

Court documents filed by housing authority attorney Robert Masini claim the zoning board of appeals' 5-1 vote to reverse the occupancy permit was "contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence" that the homeless plan is a proper government use for Midlothian Manor.

PADS Lake County, a homeless agency, would have rented the building from the housing authority. The proposal was detailed publicly for the first time in December 2014 after the Daily Herald obtained housing authority documents through a public-records request.

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David Northern
Attorney Daniel Shapiro represented some Lake Zurich-area residents in a May hearing that ended with the Lake County zoning board of appeals reversing an occupancy permit that would have allowed chronically homeless people with mental illness to move into a building in their neighborhood. Daily Herald file photo
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