Future of Crystal Lake South bleachers unclear

CRYSTAL LAKE – The future of the expanded bleachers at Crystal Lake South High School remains unclear after a McHenry County judge ruled Wednesday that city zoning ordinances and processes apply to school districts.

Judge Michael Chmiel distanced himself from the specific dispute pitting Crystal Lake residents and the city against Community High School District 155 over a $1.18 million bleacher expansion completed over the summer.

Chmiel said he found no previous cases showing school districts had to comply with or were free to ignore city zoning ordinances. He said in his analysis of the law, city ordinances in zoning matters could and should apply to school districts.

Justin Hanson, representing the city, said the next steps depend on the school district.

“What the parties choose to do with this resolution is the question,” he said.

The ruling gives the school district a number of options to pursue. The district could decide to go through the zoning process and obtain permits it would have needed for the bleacher expansion, challenge the ruling at the appellate court or attempt to move forward with the bleachers in place and bring future projects through the city process.

Robert Swain, representing the district, said officials would read the full written opinion before deciding on the next move. Chmiel’s written opinion was not available when he gave his ruling and was finalized later in the day.

“We need to read his decision so we can fully understand it,” Swain said of the district’s next move. “I think the city is holding [destruction of the bleachers] over the school’s head as a potential outcome but nothing like that has been decided yet and the judge certainly did not decide that today.”

All parties are expected reconvene in front of Chmiel on Jan. 22 at 11 a.m. to see whether the district plans to appeal the decision, comply with the city’s zoning process or take a different course of action.

Residents who initiated the lawsuit and their lawyers did not demand destruction of the bleachers after the ruling was given, but instead called for the district to follow the city’s zoning process now that authority was established.

Jeff Gurba, who filed the lawsuit along with McHenry County State’s Attorney Lou Bianchi and his wife, said he would be fine with the district going through the process and modifying the structure to meet city standards on a structure’s setback from surrounding properties and acceptable heights.

“Tearing it down is only one option,” Gurba said. “Bottom line is we just want them to comply with the law.”

The lawsuit began in August after the three Crystal Lake residents, all living along Amberwood Drive where the football field is located, complained the $1.18 million bleacher project failed to follow the city zoning process and made the structure too large and too close to their property lines.

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