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.
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