Crystal Lake Reacts to Bleacher Victory

A press release from the City of Crystal Lake in the wake of the Illinois Supreme Court’s upholding of the Home Rule city’s authority to exercise zoning and water run-off ordinances over High School District 155:

Property rights victory at the IL Supreme Court

Crystal Lake: The Illinois Supreme Court today handed a victory to all property owners by ruling that schools in Illinois are subject to local zoning.

By upholding the decisions of McHenry Circuit Court Judge Michael Chmiel and the Appellate Court for the Second District, the Supreme Court has provided relief to Jeff Gurba and his neighbors who have borne the brunt for more than two years of the nearly 50-foot high bleachers at Crystal Lake South High School.

Amberwood homes behind the south side of the football bleachers.

Amberwood homes behind the south side of the football bleachers.

Those bleachers, which School District 155 constructed without notification to the affected property owners and without going through the City’s zoning process, reportedly cost $1.2 million, and are made of solid sheets of metal extending more than three times in width and almost double the number of rows as the previous bleachers, which had open risers to allow light and air to flow through.

“Today’s ruling reconfirms that the zoning process is intended to address competing land use interests, and all property owners – including school districts and other governmental bodies — are required to follow the law and respect the due process afforded to every property owner through local zoning,” said Attorney Vic Filippini, of Filippini Law Firm, who represented the City before the Court.

Aaron Shepley

Aaron Shepley

Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron T. Shepley was more rueful.

“From the outset, the City had requested District 155 to follow the zoning process and to engage the neighbors in order to determine how the seating needs at Crystal Lake South could be addressed without impinging on the rights of its neighbors,” said Shepley.

“District 155 disdained the City’s requests, and instead dragged the City, the neighbors, and the community into this legal odyssey.

“And after wasting the money on the bleachers and all the legal fees, what have we learned?

“That District 155 should have gone through the City’s zoning process.

“Although the Court’s ruling is a powerful victory for everybody’s constitutional property rights, the lesson came at an unnecessary and painfully high price for the Gurbas and the other neighbors as well as the entire community.

“I am glad that the Court finally put an end to this and has given the impacted neighbors relief from their ordeal.”

The Gurba case is important for all property owners, statewide, particularly those properties adjacent to school district land.

The case dates back to August 2013, when the Gurba family and their neighbors, all property owners that back up to the Crystal Lake South football field and the then-still-in-progress bleacher expansion sued the School District 155, arguing the district bypassed the City’s zoning process.

Since then, the case has wound its way through the court system – with District 155 adding the City of Crystal Lake to the lawsuit in an attempt to avoid the City’s zoning process.

In December 2013, Circuit Court Judge [Michael] Chmiel ruled in favor of the City, stating that the School District must follow the City’s zoning process.

The School District appealed this decision to the Appellate Court, which affirmed Judge Chmiel’s ruling in September of 2014, reconfirming that the School District must abide by the City’s zoning process.

Unhappy with the first two rulings, the School District petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court to hear the case. In May of 2015, the Supreme Court heard the petition and today affirmed the two previous courts’ opinions.

“The Gurba family and their neighbors filed a lawsuit to stop the completion of the bleachers construction.

“Everyone who values constitutional property rights owes the Gurba family a debt of gratitude for this historic victory,” said Mayor Shepley, who has been a strong supporter of the homeowners impacted by the bleacher construction and a vocal critic of the School District’s actions in this regard.

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The guts of the case and a link to the Illinois Supreme Court decision can be found here.

The statement of District 155 School Board President Ted Wagner about plans to tear down the bleachers is here.

Through Sept. 2, 2015 it has cost $226,856.92 the city in legal fees.


Crystal Lake Reacts to Bleacher Victory — 13 Comments

  1. What a complete disaster on the part of the school district.

    The school district lost at the Circuit, Appellate, and Supreme Court levels.

    And the Supreme Court decision was unanimous by all 7 justices, meaning no dissenting opinions.

  2. What doublespeak to call this a victory for property rights! Zoning is the antithesis of property rights. This case merely means that school boards must grovel before the feudal lords of the zoning board just like the rest of us mere subjects.

  3. Although that’s true in the end…

    Some pigs are more equal than other pigs.

  4. Dear District 155,

    Good luck trying to push any referendum for even a nickel anytime within the next fifty years.


    Your Overtaxed Lifeline

  5. Just look at the photo of the bleachers overshadowing the homes they abut, this is a lesson in property rights and the need for the process

  6. So is this the final say or can the District wiggle around it?

  7. Right now the school district is like the Chicago Bears they needed to have better draft picks.

    How they fix it is anyone’s guess but they have made some really dumb decisions.

  8. Maybe someone will make a YouTube video of the bleachers so they can live in infamy.

    Crystal Lake has some unique ways to use taxpayer money, bleachers without permission and stone monuments to mark the beginning and end of the Route 14 / Virginia Avenue TIF district.

  9. What goes up, must come down … at the taxpayers expense, of course.

  10. The booster clubs involvement seems to keep being over looked.

    Their whining about looking into the sunset for 2 or 3 games early in the season started the mess of changing the home bleachers to the other side of the field.

  11. I picture the district dragging its feet and hoping that time will find some way to give them an out.

    The District should pay for Crystal Lake taxpayers’ cost of this jerk game. The District shouldn’t be handing out any salary or benefit increases for the next decade.

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