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Our view: Support for school-municipal zoning bill

Published: Sunday, March 9, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

We support legislation filed by state Sen. Pam Althoff that seeks to clear up any ambiguity in state law by giving municipalities zoning authority over school districts within their borders.

Althoff, R-McHenry, filed the bill in response to a legal dispute between the city of Crystal Lake and School District 155 over new bleachers erected last summer at Crystal Lake South High School.

As part of the project, the high school moved the home bleachers from the east side of the football stadium to the west side, which backs into the Amberwood Drive neighborhood. The new bleachers now tower over several homes. Homeowners filed suit against the district, claiming it did not get proper variances for the new bleachers from the city.

Crystal Lake city officials say the bleachers violate three zoning codes: they sit only 41 feet from homeowner’s property when it should be 50 feet or more; they are greater than 600 square feet, which requires a zoning variance; the press box and the top of the bleachers are too tall, which requires a height variance.

The school district claimed it did not need city approval. Its stance has been that it needs the approval only of the Regional Office of Education, which it received.

But in December, McHenry County Judge Michael Chmiel sided with homeowners and the city, and told the school district to go through the city’s zoning process. The district has since appealed.

Althoff said the Crystal Lake legal battle is just one of many that have popped up throughout the state in recent years. She said current state law regarding such matters was written decades ago and is not completely clear.

“It was written intentionally to be a little gray so communities could have flexibility on how they wanted to work with school districts, but that’s when life was simpler,” Althoff told the Northwest Herald for a story published last week. “Now some schools want to build wind turbines to reduce energy costs. We never anticipated that when school code was written and revised.”

Althoff’s bill is not vague. It states that “a school district is subject to and its school board must comply with any valid local government zoning ordinance or resolution that applies where the pertinent part of the school district is located.”

We urge lawmakers to pass it.

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