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District 155 to avoid daily fines until bleacher appeal ruling

WOODSTOCK – Community High School District 155 will avoid potential $1,000 daily fines from the City of Crystal Lake for the Crystal Lake South bleachers as long as a ruling on an appeal over zoning authority is delivered by June 15.

In an effort to encourage both sides to expedite the appeal process, Judge Michael Chmiel ruled Thursday the district would be safe from the large fines only if a decision on the district's appeal was rendered by the end of the school year.

Chmiel ruled in December the city had zoning authority over the school district. The district built a $1.18 million bleacher expansion at Crystal Lake High School in the summer that did not go through the process and was challenged by neighboring residents in court.

Despite giving the district the relief it seeked, Chmiel made it clear he believed the greatest hardship was on the homeowners who live next to the unwanted structure and the city, which needs a resolution on the issue as more school construction projects are scheduled for the coming summer.

Chmiel was unmoved by district attorney Robert Swain's argument the $1,000 per day fines for violating city ordinances could reach six-figures by the time an appeal was ruled on, but still offered a cushion.

"They took it upon themselves to put $1 million in the ground," Chmiel said, noting the district could have taken a legal avenue to find out who has authority before building the structure. "The school district ... brought this upon themselves."

City attorney Victor Filippini Jr. said the district could avoid fines by going through the zoning process Chmiel ruled in favor of while the appeal was heard. Filippini said the district could discover the project would be approved as is or if not, the district could have still challenged the ruling without ever needing to take the city to court.

"The city did not file this action, the city was brought into this action by the district," Filippini said. "They purposefully ignored the law ... and with any risk there are potential consequences. For them to want to continue that risky path and insulate themselves from consequences is disingenuous."

Both parties are expected to work quickly to have the appeal ruled on before the June 15 deadline so the fate of the structure can be determined for next school year. If the deadline passes with no ruling, the $1,000 per day fines could trigger if the district has not already decided to go through the city's zoning process.

The next court date is scheduled for March 17.

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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