Fox River Grove officials sued over home-tour ordinance

FOX RIVER GROVE – The owners of the Bettendorf Castle in Fox River Grove filed a lawsuit Friday against village officials that alleges a newly passed ordinance violates their First Amendment rights.

The Village Board on Sept. 5 approved an ordinance that requires residential homeowners to obtain a special-use permit to give tours of homes with architectural or historical significance.

Attorney Robert Hanlon, who filed the lawsuit in McHenry County court, said the ordinance was designed to target his clients Michael and Judy Strohl, who have been giving tours in recent years of their home modeled off a castle in Luxembourg.

The ordinance amendment, the lawsuit states, violates the Strohls' First Amendment protection to free speech, freedom of association and the right to peaceably assemble.

"It requires them to go and get permission to exercise their rights. That's not a right, when they have to ask for permission," Hanlon told the Northwest Herald. "Our society was supposed to have rights, and unless you stand up for them, you don't have any."

The Strohls' Bettendorf Castle features turrets, a drawbridge and a dungeon. The tours of the unique residential property have been an issue in recent years for the village.

Michael Strohl was found not guilty of violating Fox River Grove's residential zoning rules after the village filed charges alleging that Strohl had violated the rules by inviting visitors to his home for tours.

The home rule ordinance adopted last week allows for those tours of historically significant homes to continue, but also would require the homeowners to comply with a new set of rules.

To obtain a special-use permit, an owner would have to submit a parking and traffic plan and a calendar of proposed events and activities. There could be limitations on tours and the number of people allowed to participate in the tours.

Signage and other advertising would be restricted, and there would be periodic inspections by the village, under the ordinance.

Strohls' lawsuit wants the court to declare the ordinance amendment null and void and seeks damages not less than $150,000 from each person named in the lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed against Village President Robert Nunamaker and Trustees Suzanne Blohm, Joanna Colletti, Steve Knar and Michael Schiestel.

The amendment is "arbitrary, capricious and unrelated to the health safety and welfare of citizens of Fox River Grove," the lawsuit states. Possible ordinance infractions include barbecues, meetings with advisers, political meetings and Easter egg hunt parties, and imposes a fine of not less than $250 and not more than $750 for each day the ordinance is violated.

Nunamaker on Friday declined to comment regarding the lawsuit. Julie Tappendorf, an attorney for Ancel Glink who was hired by the village to help write the ordinance, did not return calls for comment.

Tappendorf said last week that Oak Park has a similar ordinance regulating home tours and requiring special-use permits. She said she was not aware whether that ordinance had been challenged.

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