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Our view: FRG board goes too far

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014 3:23 p.m. CDT

If it seems like the Bettendorf Castle in Fox River Grove has been in the news for more than two years, that’s because it has.

The fight between the village, castle neighbors and castle owners Michael and Judy Strohl has been brewing since early 2011, when the Strohls first wanted to open the historic structure to the public for tours, events and other activities.

The dispute has included a lot of complaining, petty arguments, ordinance violations, lawsuits, court appearances and feet dragging.

Another lawsuit was filed this month, this one by the Strohls, alleging that a newly passed ordinance that requires residential homeowners to obtain a special-use permit to give tours of homes with architectural or historical significance violates their First Amendment rights.

The Fox River Grove Village Board passed the ordinance Sept. 5. Attorney Robert Hanlon, who filed the lawsuit in McHenry County court, said the ordinance was designed to target his clients, who have been giving tours in recent years of their home modeled off a castle in Luxembourg.

In 2011, we asked for compromise in this dispute. As with any business, a village needs to reasonably regulate how it operates. An ordinance that allows for the Strohls to use their castle for events seems like a good compromise.

The problem is that the new ordinance is not a reasonable attempt at allowing the Strohls to gain approval for special-use permits for events at the castle.

The new ordinance allows for tours of historically significant homes to continue. It requires the homeowners to comply with a new set of rules, including submitting 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.

Possible ordinance infractions include barbecues, meetings with advisers, political meetings and Easter egg hunt parties. It imposes a fine of not less than $250 and not more than $750 for each day the ordinance is violated.

It’s clear this ordinance was written to single out the Strohls and is too restrictive. That’s not the kind of compromise we’ve endorsed in this dispute.

We urge the village to go back to the drawing board.

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