Illinois Supreme Court hears Crystal Lake bleacher zoning dispute

 
 
Updated 5/20/2015 7:09 PM
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  • The dispute over Crystal Lake South High School's bleachers went to the Illinois Supreme Court for arguments on Wednesday.

      The dispute over Crystal Lake South High School's bleachers went to the Illinois Supreme Court for arguments on Wednesday. Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Crystal Lake South High School argued it didn't need the city's approval to install bleachers, which are separated by this strip of land from homes on Amberwood Drive.

      Crystal Lake South High School argued it didn't need the city's approval to install bleachers, which are separated by this strip of land from homes on Amberwood Drive. Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

  • Crystal Lake South High School argued it didn't need the city's approval to install bleachers. Residents who live on Amberwood Drive say the 51-foot structure looms over their backyards.

      Crystal Lake South High School argued it didn't need the city's approval to install bleachers. Residents who live on Amberwood Drive say the 51-foot structure looms over their backyards. Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

The dispute over whether Crystal Lake South High School should have built a $1.2 million set of bleachers close to some suburban backyards was formally heard by the Illinois Supreme Court Wednesday.

The Crystal Lake school district says it didn't have to follow local zoning laws that would have prohibited the massive football bleacher project. The city of Crystal Lake argued those laws do apply to public school land.

Crystal Lake South attorney Robert Swain argued Wednesday that the state lawmakers haven't specifically said schools have to follow a town's zoning laws. So schools can build anything they want on school property so long as it helps further students' education, Swain said.

"It's up to the General Assembly to delegate jurisdiction over the schools. They did not delegate any authority to municipalities to enforce their zoning," Swain said. "A property being used for school purposes is immune from any regulation that has not been authorized by the General Assembly."

City of Crystal Lake attorney Thomas Burney argued the school is not allowed to ignore zoning laws. He took photos of the bleachers to the court and said the before and after pictures of the bleachers can't even show how massive they are compared to the adjacent homes.

"We believe that this structure is a testament to the absurdity of the position the school district has taken with respect to its right," Burney said.

While the Supreme Court took oral arguments Wednesday, no date for a decision has been set.

Crystal Lake South High School built the bleachers in 2013 and neighbors of the school say they were not notified of the $1.2 million bleacher project and that the school failed to get necessary permits for the construction. Attorneys speaking on behalf of the Crystal Lake residents argued their attempt to give input on the bleachers' construction was ignored.

The new bleachers ended up being nearly twice as tall as the old installment.

Crystal Lake residents including McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi and Jeff and Kim Gurba, who own homes behind the school, filed suit to halt construction of the bleachers in 2013.

The bleachers were once scheduled to be demolished by Dec. 1, 2014, after McHenry County Judge Michael Chmiel ordered they be torn down. But an appellate court ruling spared the bleachers.

Residents who live behind the school say the bleachers block the sun and tower over their yards, decreasing their home values. They have also argued the bleachers present stormwater control issues.

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