Change in housing ordinance concerns some lakefront residents

CRYSTAL LAKE – Changes could be coming for lakefront homeowners in Crystal Lake as the City Council has altered the way house heights will be measured.

After months of discussion and a survey to lakefront homeowners, council members voted to change the method of measuring house heights from the street to the top of the house as opposed to the lakeside yard to the top of the house. House heights cannot exceed 28 feet.

Council members said the measurement method was never intended to be based off the lakeside yard, but it changed to that after the council amended ordinances in 2006 to designate the lakeside yard as the front yard and street-side yard as the backyard.

According to a survey sent to lake property owners, there is no clear stance on the change.

Respondents were split nearly down the middle, with 18 preferring measuring the height from the street side and 21 preferring it from the lakeside.

But those who have lived in the area for years said the switch would mean negative changes.

Doreen Orist, who lives in a house originally built in 1918 on North Shore Drive, said she is concerned new houses and additions will tower over existing homes and damage the character of the lakefront neighborhood.

“It’s going to change the dynamics of a quaint community,” Orist said. “My house is 6 feet lower on the lakefront side. We’re going to have people looking down on their neighbors.”

The ordinance change now unifies the lakefront properties with the rest of the city houses, but Orist is convinced it will cause significantly different looks because of the large grade differences on the lakeside yards of those homes.

She is not alone in her protest as other longtime residents have spoken out against the change, including McHenry County Board member Jim Heisler.

“Our area is like none other in town,” Heisler told City Council members in a written statement. “Forty- and 50-foot wide watershed lots plotted in 1944 don’t fit today’s thinking.”

Mayor Aaron Shepley said he knew a vote either way would not satisfy all residents but believed it was the correct decision. He said before the 2006 ordinance change, all houses had been measured from the street and no issues arose.

The vote maintains a status quo and will preserve the character of the community, Shepley said.

“I don’t think what we did represented a change. What we did was rectify an unintended consequence,” Shepley said of the vote. “For as long as Crystal Lake has been in existence except for 2006 until now, all houses were measured in the same way.”

Orist said she also questioned the survey that had wording confusing to both residents and council members and believed the response rate could have been low because no deadline to submit it was provided.

She said she planned to gather support to appeal the decision.

“The city wants to treat us the same as the rest of the city, but this is a unique area,” she said. “I personally feel that the North Shore area of Crystal Lake needs to have its own set of ordinances.”

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