D-155 vetting Cary-Grove project with village

CARY – A planned $8.5 million auditorium modernization at Cary-Grove High School could lead to the village changing zoning rules to accommodate the project.

In an effort to avoid a similar controversy that happened in Crystal Lake, Cary and school district officials have been in discussions about the project, and the district is reaching out to nearby residents.

Village Administrator Chris Clark said the village provided the district with 70 to 80 addresses of nearby residents and property owners so the district could send letters to them about the work.

A zoning controversy where a judge has ruled that District 155 had to follow city zoning regulations when it built a $1.18 million set of bleachers at Crystal Lake South High School is under appeal.

Neighbors next to Crystal Lake South complained about the bleachers being built too close to their backyards, and that the district did not receive a city variance.

District officials contend all they needed to move forward with a project is approval from the Regional Office of Education.

Now with the $8.5 million Cary-Grove auditorium project scheduled to begin in August, there are discussions between the village and school district about helping the project move forward.

The height of the auditorium is currently 22 feet. After the year-long project, the average height would be 38 feet, but there would be a fly-loft area for curtains and backdrops that will be 46 feet, 6 inches tall, said Jeff Puma, District 155 spokesman. It would not be occupied space.

However, under the village's zoning ordinance, there is a 30-foot height maximum on land zoned for schools. Staff does have the ability to grant a 10-foot grace area, bringing the maximum height to 40 feet.

The school's auditorium project would need a variance, which is a process the district does not want to go through, Clark said.

"There is a concern if [the district] comes to the village of Cary and asks for zoning relief ... they would be acknowledging they do have to follow local zoning, which submarines their litigation with Crystal Lake," Village Attorney Mike Coppedge said.

So village staff is proposing an amendment to its zoning code to allow schools to exceed the 30-foot rule as long as it's nonoccupied space and no taller than 49 feet.

The village's Board of Zoning, Planning and Appeals is scheduled to review the proposal June 26.

Coppedge said if the appellate court rules in favor of the school district, then District 155 can build whatever it wants.

"The other scenario is saying the trial judge in McHenry County was right and they have to follow local zoning, and we would be no worse for wear because we implemented a text amendment to be cooperative government neighbors to build the auditorium on standards that work for everyone," Coppedge said.

Clark said the village and district are trying to develop a creative solution to the issue.

"We're not trying to not pay attention to our rules, we're trying to fairly apply them, and avoid any risk of any litigious process, which both parties don't need," Clark said.

Village Director of Community and Economic Development Chris Stilling said many schools' gymnasiums today need a height of 35 to 40 feet.

"Our current codes don't contemplate fitting the needs of current elementary schools, or high schools or junior highs," Stilling said.

However, if the text amendment does go through, it could leave the door open for another taxing body, such as the park district, to build a structure up to 49 feet tall, Village Trustee Rick Dudek said.

"The park district to me, because of the amount of land they own in this town, would be a likely candidate at sometime to hold that against us," Dudek said.

Of the $8.5 million expense, $1.5 million will come from the Cary-Grove Fine Arts Foundation, which has been fundraising to get the auditorium project completed.

Even though the project has been presented at various school district committee and board meetings, there will be another presentation Tuesday at Cary-Grove High School.

Before the construction of the Crystal Lake South bleachers, the district only posted required public notices on its website and in the newspaper.

This time around, the district has sent letters to 70 nearby residents and property owners letting them know about the project, Puma said.

"I think we're trying to be proactive and get the word out as much as possible," Puma said.

Puma also acknowledged the discussions with Cary officials.

"We're working with them to mutually plan this for the benefit of the students and community as a whole," Puma said. "The productions at Cary-Grove are quite good and well-attended. We're working with the village to make sure it's being planned properly."

To learn more

District 155 on Tuesday has scheduled a presentation on a planned auditorium project at Cary-Grove High School, 2208 Three Oaks Road, Cary.

An open house is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., with a special school board meeting and presentation scheduled for 7 p.m.

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