CL South Neighbors File Lawsuit Against District 155 Over Bleachers; Football Season in Flux

Crystal Lake South Gators Football teams likely will need to play games on alternate fields this season as the battle over the new $1.18 million bleacher stadium continues.

District 155 Superintendent Johnnie Thomas notifies attendees of Monday's meeting that no further bleacher discussions could be held due to the lawsuit filed the same day.
District 155 Superintendent Johnnie Thomas notifies attendees of Monday's meeting that no further bleacher discussions could be held due to the lawsuit filed the same day.

A special meeting scheduled for neighbors of Crystal Lake South High School and Community High School District 155 officials on Monday night was intended to find a solution to the new football stadium dispute.

However, an attempt at a resolution could not even get started as District 155 Superintendent Johnnie Thomas announced to the group of about 25 attendees that Amberwood Drive homeowners Jeff Gurba, and Louis and Jean Bianchi had filed a lawsuit on Monday against District 155 and the District 155 Board of Education.

Per the advice of legal counsel, Thomas said no discussions could be held.

Michael R. Burney, attorney for the homeowners, said an emergency hearing has been set for 9 a.m. Wednesday in McHenry County Court, where he will enter a motion seeking a temporary restraining order for the ongoing construction of the new 51-foot-tall, $1.18 million bleachers at South High School, which is located at 1200 S. McHenry Ave., Crystal Lake.

"We're looking for an injunction whereby the district can't continue to maintain a structure that isn't in compliance with city ordinance," Burney said.

In the meantime, District 155 spokesman Jeff Puma said alternatives likely will be made for the Gators' upcoming football season. School officials must find other fields for the Gators to play their games.

School officials were looking forward to the new season, with the new bleachers in place and the recent purchase of a giant, inflatable football helmet for the players to enter the field through at the start of the game.

The city of Crystal Lake has already issued two stop-work orders to the District 155, asking it follow the standard application and review process for zoning and storm water permits.

The Amberwood Drive residents said construction workers arrived, as usual, at 7 a.m. Monday morning, but, to their surprise, work crews stopped and departed by 10:30 a.m.

Both the city officials and Burney argue District 155 fumbled when it proceeded with construction of the bleachers, which will hold between 3,800 to 3,900 spectators between both the Home and Visitor seating areas when completed.

"We're asking that any structure the district builds that it is built in compliance with the city's ordinances," Burney said. "That goes for UDO (Unified Development Ordinance), parking and storm sewer."

Burney said District 155 is "striking a new territory" by insisting the city has no right to regulate zoning of the stadium. Burney cited Section 11-13-15 of the municipal code that states any property owner within 1,200 feet has standing to enforce city zoning.

"We want the school to be treated like any other property owner," Burney said. "By refusing to participate in the zoning process, the district has taken away these residents' rights to be part of the zoning process."

Louis Bianchi, states attorney for McHenry County, said he and his wife purchased the four bedroom raised ranch home in the 1100 block of Amberwood Drive five years ago as an investment. The couple rents the house.

"My wife and I love Crystal Lake that's why we invested in Crystal Lake and not Wall Street," Bianchi said. "It's a safety issue. We all are interested in keeping Crystal Lake a safe community....in an ideal world, they would have just replaced the bleachers where they were."

The homeowners said they're not against football, and are accustomed to the noise living next to the school. But, the new bleachers are "monstrous," they said, and will severely impact the value of their homes. They're also concerned about the structure's height and size.

Burney said the district failed to notify the homeowners by posting signs on the property about the project and mailing notices to neighboring property owners living 250 to 300 feet away from the lot line, as law requires, he said.

"The Berlin Wall was 12 feet tall," Burney said. "The security fence in Israel is 28 feet tall. These bleachers are 51 feet tall. You're talking about a four-story structure going up here."


District 155 Installs Massive New Bleachers at CL South High School Without City Approval

'Battle of the Bleachers' Continues Between District 155 and City of Crystal Lake 

CL Mayor Asks District 155 to Stop Work on Bleachers and Obtain Zoning Approval

Stop Work Order from City to District 155 for CL South Bleachers
Molly Stevenson August 12, 2013 at 11:53 PM
I'm about to enter my senior year at South. I'm proud to say that South football is something I was looking forward too. All I can say now is I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed that this law suit was filed. I hope that achieving the "safety" that these homeowners keep mentioning is worth upsetting 1800 students and thousands of supporters that just wanted to be able to sit and watch the game. Also, if the school did everything that was required, like mailed notices and worked under city permits, would the homeowners still be upset with the bleachers? I thought the problem was safety, yet I keep hearing that these bleachers lower land value. If South did everything right with the construction of these bleachers, would homeowners still be upset?
Kathleen Scott August 13, 2013 at 12:21 AM
@Molly Stevenson - your closing question begs for a response. No one will ever know how the homeowners would have felt had they been properly included in the process because the school district clearly felt they did not owe the community the courtesy of following the laws, rules, and ordinances. The school district and the neighbors probably could have negotiated an outcome that satisfied both sides had the district not shut the community out of the process. They could have compromised in a multitude of ways, including, but not limited to a reduction in the size of these enormous bleachers, proper placement a safe distance from property lines and perhaps even the addition of a decorative landscape barrier to ease the eyesore and lessen the impact on their property values. But we'll never know because the school district decided they didn't have to follow ordinary rules or laws.
Jim Stuglish August 13, 2013 at 12:24 AM
Oh yeah, you're such a victim Molly. You're a senior in high school, do you really understand the point of zoning restrictions? And please don't act like all 1800 students care about football, because they don't. And yes I would argue that public safety and the LAW is worth enforcing over the hurt feelings of high schoolers. I'm sorry you're too arrogant to realize that public safety and property values are more important than your feelings. Grow up. Oh and let's also be honest about something, the glory days of south football are over..this will be their last decent year, maybe 6-3 if they're lucky, after that, flashback to the 90s because South will be one of the losers in the FVC. Shame on the district, shame on south football.
Kim G. August 13, 2013 at 12:25 AM
Most likely not young lady because then they would have been given their due process which is their right under the law and as tax payers. They would have had a voice in expressing their concern about all the issues before the bleachers were ever built. D155 took that right away from them. That is wrong. The district has lied about many things like not being served with several stop work orders from the city. They have lied to homeowners about meetings saying there were no meetings to attend when in fact there was. D155 is now trying to play the victim when in fact they are the biggest bully in the school yard. Proud of you for expressing your opinion because that is your right, too bad the homeowners didn't get that right.
Kim G. August 13, 2013 at 01:57 AM
Molly, hopefully things will be settled before it impacts any games. Jim, you were pretty harsh on her. She is expressing her opinion like we all are free to do. Please keep in mind that she is still young and just learning about these things. You came down on her pretty hard and that was not necessary.
Concerned Citizen August 13, 2013 at 08:35 AM
Obviously, Jim's life used to revolve around South H.S. football team. There was no need to bite Molly's head off. When things directly affect someone, they become passionate about it and there is nothing wrong with passion. It forces people to become alive and get involved. I do wonder where all this money came from and how much that inflatable helmet costs? Our schools are falling apart and there is money for a helmet?
James Palmquist August 13, 2013 at 09:37 AM
Did they really compare the bleachers to the Berlin Wall?? Seems a bit dramatic to me.
Kim G. August 13, 2013 at 10:01 AM
I believe that was more to give people some kind of visual in their minds as to the size of these things. They are HUGE and extremely ugly from behind.
Katrina Ransom August 13, 2013 at 10:24 AM
I have read multiple articles on this and I must say the school did follow state ordinances. Yes, they did not go the best way about it but the homeowners had every right to ask about it. I have known about the stadium since late February early March. I agree that not many people knew about it but it was never hidden. Once they saw the away side construction (old home side) Why didn't they go and request information to prevent how high the bleachers were going. Yes, they should have by all means done a much better job at keeping the community involved. Well, in reality they didn't and where is the proof the neighbors did what they should have then as concerned citizens and gone to get information. Next I would like to say if you say there is a flooding concern what is it? Every article I read says 'flooding issue' or 'flooding problem' and all I have found was they do not have a proper permit for sewers. Maybe they were waiting to get that, who knows? If you are so concerned with safety did you take into account that without those new huge stands there will continue to be no room as our school is growing and more people keep attending our games. Did you not take into account that the old stands did not fit The Americans With Disabilities Act? Are you not aware that having all those people standing around the fence and crowding our walkways was a safety issue? I understand where property owners are getting this but now tax payers such as my parents and siblings in the Crystal Lake community and possibly all of McHenry county now have to pay for this lawsuit. Next to bring up is the students. There is no proof this is my opinion but what about the students? What about those that want to try to get football, cheerleading, pon pom's, or band scholarships and need recruits to come to the games. Or what if there is no marching band or pommie halftime show. Now there is a chance that these students will be affected when it comes to their college and carriers. Please look at all sides of this before you strike a one sided opinion. I am a junior at Crystal Lake South and in the Marching band and my favorite sport is Football. I am disappointed that our home season probably will not be home and I believe the stands should stay because the school followed state ordinances. Prove me wrong and my mind is willing to change as well as a good part of the student body and citizens of McHenry Country.
Sherri Modrzejewski August 13, 2013 at 11:54 AM
Katrina brings up some very valid points, and I, as a former South High parent, have to agree with her. I am actually also surprised that no one brought up the fact that the old home side bleachers had gaps at the back of where people put their feet. That was an extreme hazard to our family as we had very small children that attended the games with us. I can't tell you how many times I had to go down and retrieve a bottle, my purse, a jacket, etc., that had fallen through the bleachers. Do the homeowners have rights? Of course, but I have heard several different complaints that range from understandable to absolutely ludicrous. But the fact still remains that there were many issues with the old bleachers that were very hazardous not to mention the fact that many people were not even able to sit due to not enough room. You live by a high school, you're going to have to understand that it was a choice that you made. This could have been settled without a lawsuit had both sides been more cooperative with each other. Filing a lawsuit has now completely ruined the entire football season for South High faculty and students.
Kim G. August 13, 2013 at 12:27 PM
The flooding issues are valid. The area behind floods when we get rain. With no proper drainage being built in by the new bleachers & the area underneath then is just crushed concrete it will flood even more and go into these neighbors yards & possibly their basement & cause major damage. They are concerned with the height of these bleachers & that kids might want to hang out on the top row & goof around & get hurt or worse fall off the top. The top is now a flimsy small fence. They are also worried about trash & other items being thrown onto their property from spectators. They fully understand that these bleachers warranted replacement and updating but if the district had gone through the proper procedures & applied for zoning/building with the city like they have done for every major building construction in the past 25 years then before this was even built the neighbors would have been personally notified & could have then voiced their concerns and a solution would have been worked out. That is the way it should have happened but the district had taken that away from them & this lawsuit was the only course of action for neighbors.
Kim G. August 13, 2013 at 12:33 PM
BTW if you have seen this thing it is more comparable to having a 3 story building or a 747 jet built directly behind your house. That is not what they moved next too. D155 should have shown how to be a good neighbor & informed these people directly affected. D155 believes they are above the law and because they are bigger & have more money that they can bully anyone they want & do anything they want and get away with it.
Mike August 13, 2013 at 02:15 PM
The school is state property, thus they went and obtained all the necessary state permits. No city permits necessary. Now the flooding issue is a legit concern, so the homeowners have a right to have that investigated. If it's deemed that it will not effect the neighboring homes than let the construction continue. I really hope this lawsuit isn't a money grab......wait, of course it is, it's a lawsuit.
Kim G. August 13, 2013 at 02:25 PM
If you have read the lawsuit which is public record the neighbors are not asking for money. Yes, they do need city zoning & building approval just like every other homeowner/business owner in the city. They proved that by asking for permits every time for the last 25 years. The neighbors are asking that the district follow all city building & zoning laws and not need any special variances for the project. If the city had done this in the very beginning then the affected neighbors would have been contacted by certified letter & have had the opportunity to have a say in the planning of this thing. D155 tried to slip this by neighbors & the city and as a taxpayer I am concerned.
Stephanie Price (Editor) August 13, 2013 at 03:53 PM
Here is a the link to the Dec. 23, 2011, decision by Illinois State's Attorney General Lisa Madigan stating that school districts are subject to municipal and county ordinances. You Patch readers can decide whether or not you agree with the state's decision. www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/opinions/index.html
Mike jones August 13, 2013 at 05:13 PM
So Kim G what should they do ? Not upgrade to larger bleachers? Maybe get rid of the football team? Or I know close the school and knock everything down and put in a park so our great states attorneys property value goes up. There was no way the home side could be expanded on the east side. The concession stand and tennis courts would have to be removed. Sorry your against upgrading the school. Maybe if you just once went on the old bleachers you would agree this had to be done. And that they needed to be expanded. And btw crushed concrete will Drain rain water very well. I'm sure the school would of landscaped behind the bleachers but now you just took away the one thing the kids look forward to on Fridays that don't involve drinking and drugs. Plus the extra expense of transporting the football team, cheerleaders and the band to a new field. If the school even takes them all with.
The Totem Pole August 13, 2013 at 06:34 PM
I don't see what the big deal is anyway. That neighborhood is turning into a ghetto anyway. A bunch of bleachers aren't going to make a difference compared to the unkempt yards, foreclosures, short sales, and rental houses over there. I think the school should sell some of their land so someone can build a Cash for Gold store and a Currency Exchange over there...they would fit the neighborhood better.
Zed August 13, 2013 at 07:35 PM
:...you just took away the one thing the kids look forward to on Fridays that don't involve drinking and drugs. Plus the extra expense of transporting the football team, cheerleaders and the band to a new field.: School District officials and their illegal actions are solely responsible for all of the above. They quietly hoped that they could get the bleachers up with no one noticing or raising perfectly legitimate objections. These officials need to be taken to task. Resignations need to be "suggested" if not demanded. Not many are saying that the school didn't need new bleachers. There is absolutely no reason why they couldn't have been put up where the old bleachers stood. One of the reasons given for the relocation was that the sun would sometimes get into the eyes of spectators. As I wrote in a previous post, the sun sometimes gets into the eyes of spectators at pretty much every single outdoor stadium on the entire planet. As for the post tagged as August 13, 2013 at 06:34 PM: That incredibly immature and hopelessly inane post merely identifies the author for the careless cretin that he or she is.
Mike jones August 13, 2013 at 07:40 PM
Zed. Learn how to read. The bleachers were expanded. Thus they could not go back where they were at. The concession stand and tennis courts are on the east side and would be in the way of the new larger bleachers.
Mike jones August 13, 2013 at 07:47 PM
This wouldn't even be going to court if it wasn't for soon to be ex states attorney bianchi using his power to ruin high school football at CLS because his rental property is behind the bleachers. Let them finish the bleachers, play the games, and meet and come up with a solution without taking away something the kids enjoy. The bleachers are safer than the old one. They do not need to be taken down. They are only 5' 10" taller than the old ones.
Zed August 13, 2013 at 07:53 PM
Mike Jones, I could suggest that others posting here learn not be rude in their posts. Instead I'll simply point out to you that if bleachers can be moved, so can concession stands and tennis courts. Obviously, with the cost put out for these new bleachers, the school district has plenty of money to relocate these other things as well. (And in case certain others here didn't catch the sarcasm of that last sentence... I was being sarcastic.)
CL Proud August 13, 2013 at 08:15 PM
I cannot believe what some people write here. First of all "Jim Stuglish" you must be so proud of yourself, picking on a senior girl. You are nothing more than a bully. Secondly, this student has a right to be disappointed. This is not all about football. It is about time where students can come and support their school. Parents, grandparents, and siblings all come out to watch their children play football, march in the band, or perform at half time. It is about school spirit and people coming together as a community. Have we all forgotten that we belong to a really nice, friendly community? I don't pretend to know all about this. But I do believe that people were made aware of this expansion. Did all parties go about it properly? Probably not, but what bothers me more than anything is that out wonderful states attorney is jumping in on this because he happens to own RENTAL property in this neighborhood. He needs to step out of this and worry about PR where his kids go. Stay away! Furthermore, isn't this the same man that was brought up on charges a little while ago? Isn't this the same prosecutor that plea bargins drunk drivers and drug dealers? Bottom line, this is really a sad situation and it only proves that the only way to get something accomplished is by suing. SAD, because on the lawyers are getting rich!
Jake Flander August 13, 2013 at 10:44 PM
all the money wasted on the bleachers as well as the money that the plaintiff gets from the lawsuit if they get any will just increase the plaintiff and neighbor's property taxes, but i do believe the school should of followed the city's ordinance, the owners of the house are just changing their view from crappy bleachers and a view of the side of the brick school to shining new bleachers.


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