Judge OKs tours of Bettendorf Castle
To the dismay of its neighbors, public tours of Bettendorf Castle in Fox River Grove could resume soon after a ruling by a McHenry County judge on Wednesday morning.
Fox River Grove officials had argued the village code does not allow bus tours in residential areas, and the matter ended up in court after castle owner Michael Strohl was issued a zoning ordinance violation notice in August.
The judge ruled in favor of Strohl, who resides at the castle at 418 Concord. Ave., and hosted two bus tours facilitated by the McHenry County Convention and Visitors Bureau last summer.
Associate Judge Michael W. Feetterer cites the infrequency of the bus tours -- only twice in 17 years -- and the fact that Strohl did not receive compensation for the bus tours as reasons for his ruling.
"From my perspective an injustice was undone and Mr. Strohl's rights were vindicated with the court's decision," said Strohl's attorney, Robert Hanlon of Woodstock.
As for hosting future tours, "There is nothing in the works at the moment, but obviously we'll look at this decision to move forward," Hanlon said.
Neighbor Diana Durso said she was very disappointed by the decision. She was among several residents of Concord Avenue who voiced their opposition to bus tours at the castle, citing traffic and safety issues.
"The village has to have an ordinance so nothing like this happens in a residential area," she said.
Village President Bob Nunamaker said that is possible. "The neighbors and the owners of Bettendorf Castle were in disagreement, and we thought it appropriate that a judge would make a decision," he said. "The trustees may elect to modify some of the language of the ordinance."
Ted Johnson, who lives next door to the castle, said he hopes trustees will act in the interest of the neighborhood as a whole. "People in the neighborhood just want to live quietly," Johnson said, adding he has considered moving because of the conflict with the castle's owners.
Durso also was named in a federal lawsuit filed in September that stated she asked an unnamed female employee of the Chicago Police Department to look up the license plates of visitors of the castle, and then harassed the visitors after obtaining their personal information.
Plaintiff Ralph Casten accepted Durso's offer of $2,501, plus reasonable attorney's fees and costs, in a judgment entered Dec. 21, according to information from the U.S. District Court of Illinois, Northern District, in Rockford.
Durso directed all questions about the lawsuit to her lawyer, Vincent Mancini, who didn't return a request for comment.
Attorney Hanlon, who also represents Casten, said that Durso objected to his $48,000 in fees. The court will issue a decision if the parties can't agree, he said.
As for the Chicago police employee, Hanlon said he believes internal affairs looked into the issue and will refer it to the Cook County State's Attorney's office. Neither agency could confirm this on Wednesday.
Bettendorf Castle, built between 1931 and 1967, was recognized by the historic sites committee of the McHenry County Historical Society in September.
McHenry County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Cort Carlson said the agency will wait to discuss the matter with Strohl before deciding how to proceed.