Judge Michael Chmiel’s decision in favor of neighbors of the ginormous Crystal Lake South High School bleacher was upheld by the 2nd Appellate Court Wednesday.
A summary of the opinion, the first pitting a Home Rule municipality against a school district, might read, “A municipality’s Constitution Home Rule power trumps a school district’s statutory authority.”
The neighbors “objected to the District’s decision to build bleachers that violated the zoning and stormwater ordinances of the City of Crystal Lake (the City) by being too big, too high, and too close to the property line,” the opinion explained.
Another suit in the zoning dispute was filed by the City of Crystal Lake against High School District 155 and Regional Superintendent of Education Leslie Schermerhorn.
The ruling is summarized below:
“The trial court held that the Board was subject to the City’s zoning and stormwater ordinances, and the Board appeals, contending that the court’s ruling represented an unconstitutional infringement on the Board’s and the Superintendent’s power.
“We disagree and affirm.”
District 155 argued that for constitutional and statutory reasons that it was exempt from the Crystal Lake Zoning and Stormwater Ordinances.
The Appellate Court focuses on this State constitutional language on public education:
“…“[t]he Board, except as limited by law, may establish goals, determine policies, provide for planning and evaluating education programs and recommend financing.” (Later the opinion points out that nothing in the Constitution concerning education has “anything to do with land use and whether a school board or district is subject to the local municipality’s zoning regulations.”)
It also references this part of the State Constitution (which, the opinion notes, was not cited by the Crystal Lake School Board):
“[t]ownships, school districts, special districts and units, designated by law as units of local government, which exercise limited governmental powers or power in respect to limited governmental subjects shall have only powers granted by law.”
The Court lays this language against the Home Rule powers of municipalities:
“Except as limited by this Section, a home rule unit may exercise any power and perform any function pertaining to its government and affairs including, but not limited to, the power to regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, morals and welfare; to license; to tax; and to incur debt.”
The conclusion is that
“There are…several provisions that suggest that, in the case of a conflict between a home-rule unit and a school district, there is a slight bias toward the home-rule unit.”
It notes that in a conflict between a county’s Home Rule powers (Cook County only) and those of a Home Rule municipality, the municipality wins.
“On the other hand, the constitution is careful to emphasize the limited authority of school districts,” the opinion continues.
Moving on, the opinion says,
“We conclude that there is clear support for the trial court’s determination that the Board was subject to the City’s zoning ordinances.”
While District 155 argued that “home-rule powers must be subordinate to anything that touches on public education,” the reviewing court disagreed.
While conceding the School Board’s contention that public education involves matters of statewide concern, the opinion says, “… the front line of implementing public education, remains rooted in the local community.”
Another argument of District 155 is dismissed as “a strained and misleading interpretation.”
In response to the school’s argument that zoning cannot be asserted by Crystal Lake, the Court said,
“We disagree. The City’s zoning ordinances regulate land use within the City’s boundaries. They do not speak to the topic of public education or otherwise seek to intrude into the realm of public education.”
The Court notes that a recent Attorney General’s Opinion noted “…nothing exempting local school boards or school districts from compliance with local zoning regulations…”
The school board tried to hang its exemption from zoning regulations on the Health/Life Safety Code statute.
That didn’t work as the opinion says it “…r, the Health/Life Safety Code itself does not deal with zoning considerations…”
Later, “We do not notice any provisions in the Health/Life Safety Code that deal with land use or zoning…”
“Requiring conformity to the City’s zoning ordinances will not prevent the Board and the District from carrying out their duties to provide public education to the residents of the District.”