Bleachers: District 155 May Challenge City's Zoning Code if Forced to Follow Process

Attorneys for Community High School District 155 tell judge they may go after the legality of Crystal Lake's zoning ordinances.

The view of the back of the new bleachers at Crystal Lake South High School for adjacent property owners.
The view of the back of the new bleachers at Crystal Lake South High School for adjacent property owners.

Today marked another day in court for District 155, homeowners and the city of Crystal Lake in the ongoing legal dispute over the new $1.18 million bleachers at Crystal Lake South High School. 

Justin Hansen, attorney for the city of Crystal Lake, asked Judge Michael Chmiel for a expeditious decision on the issue at the core of the legal battle: Whether a school district must comply with municipal zoning ordinances.

"I would suggest that the court can address the legal issue very quickly as there are many cases on record (from which the court could render a decision)," Hansen said.  

Hansen pointed to a lawsuit between the Wilmette Park District and the village of Wilmette, where a court ruled the park district was bound to follow the village's codes.

Hansen also referred to the Dec. 23, 2011, decision by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan stating school districts must comply with municipal and county zoning ordinances unless such ordinances interfere with the district's main purpose of educating students. 

However, District 155's attorney Robert Swain told Judge Chmiel his legal team had requested a copy of Crystal Lake's zoning codes and may go after the legality of the zoning ordinances themselves in this battle.

"If the city's zoning ordinances do apply, then there's the question of whether the zoning code is reasonable," Swain said.

Judge Chmiel clarified Swain's statement by asking, "You mean you are (going to seek) that the zoning ordinance is unconstitutional?"

Hansen said any "assertion by District 155 that the city's zoning ordinances are not valid" is not included in the District's third-party complaint, which drew the city into the legal battle over the new stadium to begin with.

"We're contemplating adding that (the zoning code is not fair and reasonable) as an amendment to our suit," Swain said.

Judge Chmiel told the three legal teams to return next week at 2 p.m. Aug. 29, while he reviewed details in the case.

The judge also suggested the three sides consider entering mediation, or a "settlement conference," where everyone could sit down together and work towards a resolution on the matter. 

The battle over the bleachers at Crystal Lake South High School began late last month when the city issued stop work orders on construction of the stadium, which will seat up to 3,900 people.

The school district never applied for permits or zoning variation approval on the project, nor did it notify the neighboring homeowners that the 51-foot-tall structure would be built 41 feet from the property line.

City code requires a setback of 50 feet, and zoning variation would be needed for a structure of that height, according to city officials. The bleachers are also three times the width of the original bleachers on the site, and the school district did not obtain the necessary storm water permits (per city code) for the project either.

Tom Burney, attorney for the homeowners, told the judge on Friday that Crystal Lake South High School would need an additional 680 parking spaces to accommodate the bleachers' capacity. 

District 155 officials have maintained that they are governed solely by the McHenry County Regional Superintendent of Schools, and received permits from that office. 

Another glitch in the legal process: District 155 attorneys said they were extending the third-party lawsuit to include the Regional Superintendent of Schools, Leslie Schermerhorn; however, the district has not yet issued that summons.

If it does, Schermerhorn would, in most cases, be represented by McHenry County State's Attorney Louis Bianchi. However, Bianchi is  listed as a private party on the homeowners' lawsuit against the school district because he owns one of the homes that backs up to the underbelly of the new bleachers. 


Petition Supports City in Bleachers Dispute

CL South Fans May Get to Use Bleachers- For Now; Legal Battle Continues

District 155 Extends Court Battle to Include City of Crystal Lake, Regional Superintendent

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

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

Kim G. August 23, 2013 at 01:50 PM
The district wants this battle to go on forever and wasting even more of the taxpayers $$. They need to be told to back down now & settle these issues & work with the city.
Railroaded August 23, 2013 at 02:06 PM
Vote Them Out! come election time People! We do not need this waste going on in our community!... Stop spending our TAX $$!!! Now!!!!!
Sheri August 23, 2013 at 02:24 PM
Wasting taxpayer money? The City of Crystal Lake spent $68,000 to build rock structures along Hwy. 14, so if we should be voting anyone out it should start with the Mayor and the City Council.
Mike jones August 23, 2013 at 02:54 PM
No Kim you want it to go on forever until the bleachers get torn down and it goes back to how it was. Or what do you want? Just lawn chairs for the games so you have a clear view out your back door? At most you'll get is the bleachers lowered. They still will be just as wide. You will not notice the difference of being only 6ft lower. Your view will not change. Change is a part of life deal with it.
Mike jones August 23, 2013 at 02:56 PM
Kim all you've done is complain. You want the district to work with the city and obviously you. What in your perfect world is the solution? Please let us know what you want to happen.
Kim G. August 23, 2013 at 03:10 PM
Again because apparently some people can not comprehend this. The bleachers are in violation of many zoning laws. The district needs to follow city zoning laws. When they do that, neighbors will have a say & their due process which is their right. Just as it is your right.
Roger Brock August 23, 2013 at 03:58 PM
Dist. 155 is spending far more in legal fees than it would have cost to simply obtain a permit from the city. Money that could be used for educational purposes. And if they stop now and apply for a permit they would still be ahead of the game because it looks like Swain wants to run up some legal bills !!! The city shouldn't back down, they have the district by the short hairs.
Mike jones August 23, 2013 at 04:06 PM
Kim g why can't you just say what you would want done? It's a simple question!
Mike jones August 23, 2013 at 04:07 PM
Even if they met the zoning laws of hight and distance from the property line they still will have the same appearance they have now. Just a little Lower.
CLSmom August 23, 2013 at 04:09 PM
Oh, we get it alright..... It's not the District waisting taxpayer money it's this nonsense law suit Bianchi and the rest of you started over a few feet. Those bleachers will be just as ugly to look at after a few feet get taken away, so even if you win..... all you really accomplished is to ruin this year for students attending CLS. Marching Band, Flags, Poms, Cheer, players, and those who just go to watch. SHAME ON YOU!!!!
Kathleen Scott August 23, 2013 at 05:15 PM
Wow - so many haters towards Kim G. We're not in her shoes and we haven't had our neighbor built a giant steel structure behind our back yards. I'm sure Kim and her neighbors pay their taxes and I know they have a right to due process, which the school district attempted to circumvent. A few rows lower, few feet further away, water drainage consideration and some well placed landscaping could have prevented this whole fiasco. I can only assume District 155 chose the "ask forgiveness, not permission" route because they didn't want to compromise with the local homeowners and they thought they could bully their way through. Great lesson to teach our children.
Concerned Citizen August 23, 2013 at 06:39 PM
Swain states that he is questioning whether the zoning is reasonable and "We're contemplating adding that (the zoning code is not fair and reasonable) as an amendment to our suit," Swain said. So if it is found that the zoning code is not fair, I guess, that when I want to put something so obnoxious on my property, I can sue and say that the zoning is NOT FAIR. I don't even get this. Do you think that the taxpayers of this town think that zoning is always fair? The only difference is that we cannot fight the zone codes with Taxpayers Dollars! HHMM, I an going to carefully watch this because there are going to be tons of lawsuits in this town with taxpayers challenging the zone codes and I will be one of them. When the city pays my taxes, they can tell me what to do on my property. Isn't that what Swain will accomplish?
Tim August 24, 2013 at 08:42 AM
Mike, maybe Kim wants, oh I don't know, maybe for EVERYONE to follow the rules???? It might also be a good LESSON for the kids that attend the school that EVERYONE is supposed to follow the rules.... All these loud people saying "it doesn't matter" and "who cares?", would care a lot more if it were in THEIR back yard, and if the school was pulling money out of THEIR back pocket when it came time to sell their house.....not to mention the permanent eclipse that monstrosity looks like it will create.
John Jacob August 24, 2013 at 06:55 PM
What if the zoning codes are found unconstitutional? Is it still a waste of money to go after them? I also keep hearing about the homeowners' right to due process law. Doesn't the district also have this right? Shouldn't they be able to defend themselves? If they have the right to defend themselves, then they have the right to use their money to do so, whether that money was given to them by taxpayers or not. If you didn't want taxpayer money to be "wasted" on this trial, you shouldn't have sued the district, as it forces more money to be spent in defense. If the district is found at fault for not using these building codes then you have every right to complain about the money spending. But until this is ruled on, don't complain about the cost.
Adriene Grzenia August 25, 2013 at 08:05 AM
What about following the rules? What makes the District think it is above the law? This is a horrible "Civics" lesson for the students of the district. Shame on the board for trying to fly under the radar. If money is wasted, it is the District that is responsible for this waste. No homeowner wants to get engaged in a lawsuit; we all know that takes time and money. I'm really angered by the arrogance of District 155. They are wrong in this battle.
John Jacob August 25, 2013 at 11:11 AM
You are assuming that the rules the district broke are constitutional. Unfortunately, you being angry doesn't mean that the district is wrong. Until there is a ruling, the district can not be blamed for disobeying rules that they are willing to challenge as unconstitutional. Also, was sueing the right option for the homeowners to take? I understand that it is a legal thing to do, but I still have not heard what the homeowners are trying to accomplish. Is the goal removing the bleachers or just getting the district fined? Either way, the students in the district that everyone seems to care about in the comments are going to be affected if the district loses more money. I wouldn't worry about setting an example for them with this case as much as I would worry about the district having enough money to teach these kids correctly and well.
D155 Teacher August 25, 2013 at 11:19 AM
I know this has nothing to do this article, which is but one example of the unbelievable arrogance of the new superintendent. Full disclaimer: I have worked as a teacher and coach for D155 for the past 18 years. I encourage someone to FOIA Johnny Thomas's district credit card purchases. You may find something terribly amiss.
D155 Teacher August 25, 2013 at 11:23 AM
Also, as manyreaders may not know, our contract expired in June. The district made an initial offer of a 20 percent pay decrease. Talk about bad faith. If our enrollment is declining, and it is, how can Thomas and the BOE justify creating THREE brand new Asst. Superintendent positions? Each of these so-called administrators is making three times the salary of a starting teacher and have ZERO impact on learning or helping students?
D155 Teacher August 25, 2013 at 11:27 AM
And I think I speak for all D155 teachers when I say that the opening-day kickoff, normally a time to energize teachers and staff, was a disaster. In my 18 years, I have never heard a superintendent so ill-prepared to speak. Don't believe me? Ask any of the three BOE members who were also in attendance. Wagner, Secrest, and Whitman. I'm sure they are now questioning their decision to hire JT.
D155 Teacher August 25, 2013 at 11:33 AM
I'm not sure how they can claim they are broke when they are spending such an egregious amount on bleachers, which have ZERO impact on student achievement. We all miss Dr. Hawk. Unlike Johnny, she had the students best interests in mind. Unlike Johnny, Dr. Hawk did not put more administrators (most of whom are grotesquely overpaid anyhow) between her and the teachers. I hope that the community begins to see how this administration is quickly destroying the trust that that makes CL and Cary such a great district to live in and to educate our kids in. We have already lost two great principles (and rumor has it one more at the end f this year). Ask yourself, what gives?


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