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

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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