By Douglas M. Karlen, Regional Counsel, Chicago Title Insurance Company
If at first you don’t succeed (in the courts), try, try again (in the legislature). This is the story of the Crystal Lake South bleachers. The question decided in this story is: do municipal zoning ordinances govern a school district’s construction of football stadium bleachers on school property? The courts said “yes;” the General Assembly subsequently said “yes, but . . .”
The campus of the Crystal Lake South High School occupies land that adjoins residential properties in the home rule city of Crystal Lake. The residences and the campus are zoned R-2 Single Family Residences. The school constitutes a nonconforming use permitted to continue under Crystal Lake’s zoning ordinances.
In 2013, the Board of Education that operates the high school decided to replace the bleachers at the football stadium. The Board’s plan placed the new home bleachers adjacent to the neighboring residential properties and called for the new bleachers to be larger, higher, and closer to the residences than the existing bleachers. The Board obtained approval and a building permit from the McHenry County Regional Superintendant of Schools and began work on the project without notifying Crystal Lake or seeking a building permit or zoning approval. Crystal Lake ordered the Board to stop construction until it obtained a special use permit and zoning variances. The Board ignored the order and completed the bleachers project.