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FRG seeks more legal advice on home tours

Published: Friday, April 19, 2013 4:53 p.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, April 20, 2013 12:04 a.m. CDT

FOX RIVER GROVE – Before moving forward with a possible ordinance to regulate home tours, the Village Board is seeking an outside legal opinion.

The Village Board, in a 4-3 vote this week, decided to spend up to $4,000 to have an additional attorney review the legality of a proposed home tour ordinance.

The village is looking into this type of ordinance because of complaints surrounding tours taking place at Bettendorf Castle, a house and grounds modeled after a castle in Luxembourg that includes turrets, a drawbridge and a dungeon.       

“We have a situation that we need to address,” Trustee Steve Knar said. “I’m just not content 100 percent with the methodology we’ve chosen to do this which is to put an ordinance without understanding the effects of that ordinance and whether it can be challenged legally.”

Outgoing Trustee Mike Ireland, who voted against seeking an outside opinion, has introduced draft language that would require a special-use permit for home tours, as well as other requirements.

“It makes no difference what this board is going to do,” Ireland said. “Do nothing, you’re going to be sued, do something, you’re still going to be sued. You’re still going to court, this is not going away.”

The proposed ordinance still has blanks, as the Village Board would need to determine how many tours would be permitted.

Knar said Village Administrator Karl Warwick requested to have an outside opinion. Who the village consults with has yet to be determined.

Knar, Village Trustees Joanna Colletti and Suzanne Blohm and Village President Robert Nunamaker voted in favor of hiring an additional attorney.

Trustee Michael Schiestel and outgoing Trustee Gerald Menzel voted against this move.

“We’ve spent a small fortune on attorney fees over this issue,” Menzel said. “I don’t know why we would need to spend another $4,000 on something.”

He said there are concerns from residents about the buses that come through on the tours.

“We ought to be looking at developing an ordinance restricting weight of buses ... on those types of streets,” Menzel said. “There’s no place to park, the roads aren’t the greatest. It seems to me the real concern is traffic, the safety issue of traffic.”

Knar said having another attorney look at the situation is a wise expenditure.

“One of the reasons we want to get a second opinion is to avoid ... getting into another lawsuit,” Knar said. “The second thing, restricting buses, you’re creating a restriction in a residential zone similar to what you’re doing right now. Both of those could be challenged.”

Robert Hanlon, attorney for Mike Strohl, owner of the Bettendorf Castle, said if the village were to adopt an ordinance restricting home tours, “the Strohls would exercise their rights in an appropriate form and at an appropriate time if it’s necessary.”

If something was passed, Hanlon said, Strohl would move “as quickly as prudent.”

He added that emotion was driving this ordinance.

“Those emotional decisions generally turn out not so good,” he said. Village Attorney John Donahue said he is comfortable with the legality of the proposed ordinance.

A possible lawsuit is something the village has to consider.

“It could cost the village a lot of money to defend it and win it,” Donahue added. “That’s a big concern for any board. The tougher decision, is not so much the legality, but knowing that threat ... knowing that might run up some costs, where does this fit in your line of priorities?”

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