Bettendorf Castle Withstands Village of Fox River Grove’s NIMBY Seige

When I heard about the court suit against the owner of one of two tourist sites in Fox River Grove, I could do nothing but figuratively scratch my head.

There are pretty much only two reasons that people would come to Fox River Grove.

The Norge Ski Jump is, of course, the one that draws the most visitors.  That’s where I took the photo on the masthead of McHenry County Blog.

The second reason is the Bettendrof Castle that can be seen from Route 14.

Evidence that the Bettendorf Castle could be a tourist attraction for Fox River Grove is the big article about it in McHenry County Living's Holiday Issue for 2011.

I remember when it was promoted as a honeymoon destination.

I am certain that a tourist outreach effort on Fox River Grove’s behalf could draw visitors who might be induced to spend money elsewhere.

There used to be a third reason, the Fox River Grove Picnic Grove.

Fox River Grove officials didn’t tear it down and turn it into a parking lot.  It turned into an upscale neighborhood.

Blow-up figures decorated the street side of the Bettendorf Castle on Christmas Day.

But no longer is the area the biker guy’s son’s “Dreamy land,” as his father explained his son’s description of it in the re-zoning hearing.

So if FRG wanted to draw tourists, its got the ski jump and the castle.

Those who don’t want the castle in their neighborhood were, in all likelihood, not even residents of the area when construction started.

It was 1931 when Teddy Bettendorf started his Vienden Castle, named after a Luxembourg town.  He worked on it until his death in 1967.

How important is the castle?

Last September, the McHenry County Historical Society designated it an historic site.

The time to stop it is long gone.

Now neighbors, in a classic, but oh so belated NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) effort convinced “city hall” to go after the Castle’s owner.

In any event, the Village attorney filed suit against current owner Michael Strohl in August.  Strohl bought the property in 1985.

The sign mentioned by the Judge.

It’s zoned residential.  Seven lots.

Not enough room for a joust, but a lot of property.  Enough for a drawbridge, moat and wishing well.

The only sign on the property says, “Not Open to the Public.”

(I think it should be.  I’d love to tour it, but the Village Board, figuring out there are more voters in the neighborhood that in the castle, by their actions apparently don’t agree.)

People have asked for tours and Mr. Strohl has given them without charge, according to a decision handed down by Judge Micheal Feetterer today.

This case started when Mr. Strohl agreed to a McHenry County Historical Society request to allow a group of senior citizens to tour his castle.

The village issued a one-day overweight permit to allow a bus to reach the property.

The bus unloaded the seniors and the bus left.

That’s what neighbors Diane Durso and Theodore Johnson testified.

The tour started at 9 AM.  The bus returned to pick up its passengers at about 10.

That’s when the castle’s owner was issued a “Non-Traffic Complaint and Notice to Appear” for operating a “home occupation” from a residence without first obtaining “a special use permit.”

Ironically, the village allows home occupations, but has some restrictions:

The Bettendorf Castle is not your ordinary residence.

  1. No signs indicating that the home or accessory building are being used for any purpose other than a residence.
  2. No activity or display outside that will indicate there is any utilization of the property but for a residence.
  3. No more than two people may engage in the home occupation.
  4. No external alterations may be made to the residence that would diminish the residential character of the buildings located there.
  5. All activities shall be inside.
  6. The traffic level on the street must not be increased because of the home business.
  7. No more than 25% of the floor space or 500 square feet may be allocated to the business use.
  8. No hazards may exist that would not be in an ordinary home.
  9. The resident must be in compliance with all other ordinances.
  10. Only one home occupation is allowed.

(Sounds as if people in FRG wouldn’t be allowed to run two internet businesses, even if only one computer were used.)

Since the tour was outside, Judge Feetterer observed, if he held it was a home occupation, a special use permit would have been required.

From the street the Bettendorf Castle all but screams, "Come and see me."

But that was not his finding.

The Judge notes FRG has no definition of “occupation” in its ordinance. He emphasizes this part of Black’s Law Dictionary: “…a person’s usual or principal work or business.”

The decision then points out that Mr. Strohl didn’t charge the tour group members nor had he ever don’t so before.

He even cites that a complaining neighbor, Diana Durso, a 424 Concord Street resident since 1994, that the August tour bus was the only one she had ever seen.

That was “de minimus” and not indicative of a home occupation or business being operated on the property, the Judge said.

“Not guilty,” ruled the Court.

The gate to the Bettendorf Castle has a big "B" on it.

Before the case started, Mr. Srtohl asked permission to host

  • scheduled tours
  • dinners for groups and businesses
  • weddings and receptions
  • anniversaries
  • family reunions
  • corporate events
  • local government events
  • charitable functions
  • political fundraisers
  • school field trips

But he withdrew that application.

Judge Feetterer notes that nothing in the zoning ordinance limits the number of people who can be invited to one’s home.

And doing so is consistent with residential use.

Nothing in the zoning ordinance about giving the grand tour of ones home or property either.

And the Village’s complaint about the people arriving in a bus apparently had the Judge scratching his head.

After all, the Village issued an overweight permit for the day in question.

He points out that parking vehicles on one’s property or in front of neighbors is “consistent with property zoned residential.”

(If this is beginning to sound like the Judge is having a successful Whack a Mole game at Fox River Grove’s expense, your interpretation parallels mine.)

The judge surmised that the Historical Society bus tour was only the second in 17 years of Mr. Strohl’s ownership.

That merited a second “Not Guilty.”

Fox River Grove seems to have won only one point.

Strohl sought to invoke the Illinois Citizen Participation Act as a defense mechanism. That was not allowed.

The attorney playing the role of Knight in Shining Armor in the case was Woodstock’s Robert T. Hanlon.


Bettendorf Castle Withstands Village of Fox River Grove’s NIMBY Seige — 16 Comments

  1. How great it is that McHenry County Blog saw the truth related to the Village of Fox River Grove’s attack on the Castle.

    FRG, and the Neighbors along with their pitchforks ought to think about how they elect to interface with others and realize that there is a right way and a wrong way to address issues on Concord Ave.

    If I were a lesser person, I would direct the neighbors where they can put each of their pitchforks.

  2. It’s all pretty sad.

    I remember (growing up in Chicago) the Fox River Grove Picnic Grove was a huge attraction.

    And we would always end up having an ice cream at the little soft serve place on 14 (across from the castle) and often a tour of the castle.

    I remember the rock stairwalks as being very narrow, slanted at odd and steep angles, and treacherous (even for little tiny feet).

    My eighth grade teacher (Mrs. Cyrilla Boyle) used to recount how as a child, she had helped carry the rocks when Teddy built the castle.

  3. Some of this silliness reminds me of people who buy a house near O’Hare then complain about the jet noise. Bet FRG wouldn’t be complaining if the castle owner charged for the tours, and the Village got their “sales tax” kick-back. Ya think?

  4. We’re from the government. We’re here to help you.

    The really sad thing is that we pay their salary for them to “help” us.

  5. Someone should make Ms. Durso a pie. Just like the one in “The Help”!

  6. Lately the castle has been lite at night and the other night when we were eating at Villa Blue, we heard a group talking about the castle and that they would not have stopped at Villa Blue if they hadn’t stopped to take a look at the castle.

    They were also surprised to find such great ribs in such a small town.

    Way to go Mr Strohl and Villa Blue!

    Every sales tax cent counts!

  7. I have seen and heard of the ongoing fight about the castle.

    The people of the neighborhood are in fear of the traffic this previous and current residential structure would bring to a quiet neighborhood street with kids and bikes playing.

    The owners had proposed gatherings for wedding, business meeting, etc.

    They had no traffic plan, no security plan, and we planning to shed these liabilities to a caterer.

    There is no open discussion about drinking and problems with the number of people they were looking to rent the facility to.

    I believe this needs to be an OPEN discussion with both sides being presented.

  8. I just read Ben’s comments and think he is right!

    People don’t always look at both sides.

    This is not like O’Hare.
    This is like an old house that then converts to a bed and breakfast, but then converts to a BAR.

    Who wants that near their home?

    I would not.

    I would not just Ben Dover and take it.

    I am a believer in private property rights, but also the rights of others and how someone’s non-conforming use would encroach on the rights of others.

  9. “Ben Dover” wants an “open discussion” about the Strohl’s use of their own property.

    So why then does “Ben Dover” use a factitious name?

    Talk about double talk!

    Ben Dover” proclaims in a “secret identity” a demand for openness.

    Perhaps his real name is Peter Parker or Clark Kent?

    Of course, those comic book characters have nothing in common with “Ben Dover”.

    Those comic book characters didn’t seek to pry into the private lives of others, but actually were there to help and to do what is right and just.

    Only a Coward would hide behind a fake name except in the fiction of comic books.

    That of course begs the question: Is “Ben Dover” a coward?

    Apparently, “Ben Dover” wants other people’s business open for his or her prying eyes but is too chicken to affix his or her real name to the posting.

    That kind of cowardice is why we have a confrontation clause in our constitution.

    Say, “Ben Dover”, how about you provide to me and everyone else that lives in the county a list of every person that has ever been at your house?

    Should that be the type of open discussion you seek?

    How silly your comments are after more than a year from the posting of this article.

    The Circuit Court of McHenry County already decided that the Strohls are not violating any law with the use of their property.

    So, get over it and suck it up!

    If you don’t like living near a Castle, move to a neighborhood without a castle, I’m sure there would be a few happy neighbors.

    Ben prove to me that you are not a coward, call my office (815) 206-2200 and tell me all of your concerns, but be prepared to reveal your secret identity.

    “Mike Hunt” if that’s your real name, you must be waiting and looking at a year old article for “Ben Dover” to finally comment upon seeing how you coincidentally within four minutes of “Ben Dover’s” posting approvingly posted a reply.

    Of course if you’re the secrete identity of Ben Dover, you are talking to yourself.

    That is often a sign of a psychological condition.

    Are things on Concord Ave that troublesome?

    By the way, have you ever found that elusive urinator that was going to urinate on your lawn?

    Also, I found your comment about the analogy of the Castle to O’Hare Airport to be beyond moronic.

    Really, Bettendorf Castle is like O’Hare!

    How so?

    Did you do a traffic study or a traffic count?

    Did you see a runway nearby?

    Don’t all those trees interfere with the flights?

    Do the planes land on the moat?

    Is there a skycap at the Castle driveway?

    Could you even fit a 747 on Concord Avenue?

    I hear those types of planes take off and land daily at O’Hare Airport.

    Finally, Mike and Ben, I hear that Darrin and Samantha Stevens moved to Rockford, perhaps you could look there for that open discussion about their bewitched house.

    If you peep in their windows to find out what Endora is up to, I would be interested.

  10. Wow, the Knight in shinning armor must be paid by the hour!

    I would bet the O’hare comment refers to “AZsuppporter’s” comments above.

    I would guess that is not their REAL name as well.

    Roberto, me and my friends do not live on or near Concord in FRG.

    The actions the castle’s owners are trying to take are CHANGES to their current use, not CONTINUEING use like O’Hare.

    Why now, did the owners wake up one day with an epiphany of guilt over closing out the masses from seeing their house?

    I wouldn’t want it my neighborhood either!!!!

    Look from Route 14 and drive on.

    “Nothing to see here.” is what was said to me the one time me and my kids drove by looking at the structure from our car.

    This was the comment from one of the owner/occupants!

    Nothing to see here!!!

  11. This is something to behold.

    I stubled upon this blog while looking for info about the castle.

    I had read about the legal troubles for the owners and wondered what had happened.

    I was under the impression with the victory they had in court that the free tours would proceed and I could finally come see what all the fuss was about.

    The link to schedule a tour on their web site does not work.

    I called the phone number listed on the web site to no avail.

    When I went to the street today, I was told to get my A_ _ off the property.

    I was actually in the street when approached!

    This is not my idea of a friendly place to be, in fact I might watch out so one of those creepy guys doesn’t lock you in a dungeon or something…. Way to go Fox River Grove!

    Fight them suckers forever, they are not nice people.

  12. “The personal right to acquire property, which is a natural right, gives to property, when acquired, a right to protection, as a social right.”

    James Madison.

    If Madison is correct, then Looky Lou, Mike Hunt, and Ben Dover just don’t get it.

    Lucky Lou: The logic in your post is simply circular. You claim there is nothing to see, yet you wanted to see it.

    Nothing to see implies that the masses will not come as pontificated by “Mike Hunt”.

    Then what’s the problem?

    The problem is that people are projecting problems to a situation that does not exist.

    Go find a real problem and complain about it to real people using your real identity.

    At least have the constitution of character to write with your own name.

    Your injection into this belated issue is interesting given your claim that you have no ties to Concord Avenue.

    Alternatively: Go Pound Sand! or simpley eat a pie like the one referenced above in Steve’s comment.

  13. All I have to say is IF and WHEN I ever hire a lawyer, I want a REAL one… who can spell and everything.

    Hanlon’s spelling is atrocious! HMPF

  14. Did anybody think that after being harrassed by the town and the neighbors that the owners want the public near their property?

    The very people trying to shut them down are the same people that want to see the castle.

    I wouldn’t be very friendly to anyone that comes harrassing me about what I do with my private property either.. just saying maybe there’s a reason they don’t want anyone near it whwn not invited because then they would get in trouble by their “in your business” neighbors..

  15. When I was a little girl over 60 years ago we would drive from Chicago to see the castle and then have ice cream across the street.

    We stood patiently and watched all the different color lights on the castle.

    We did walk the stairs and around it.

    How could anyone want this taken away.

    This castle has been there long before their homes.

    I want to take my grandkids there soon.

    Please tell me it’s still has lights on at night

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