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Bettendorf Castle lawsuit tossed

Published: Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 11:29 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 11:32 p.m. CDT

FOX RIVER GROVE – A federal judge tossed a civil lawsuit filed by the owners of Fox River Grove's Bettendorf Castle, but the dismissal left Michael and Judy Strohl room to challenge a village ordinance in McHenry County court.

The lawsuit filed by the Strohls said the village violated their constitutional rights with an amendment to its zoning ordinance that regulates home tours. The Strohls alleged the amendment was directed at them, but village officials say it was designed to protect the residential neighborhood surrounding the castle.

"What was attempted was to reasonably regulate home tours and make it so the tours of the castle could still occur within a reasonable manner so that neighbors and the neighborhood around the castle are impacted less so than before," Fox River Grove Village Administrator Derek Soderholm said.

The lawsuit was dismissed in June with a written ruling by U.S. District Judge Philip Reinhard. In it, the judge chided the Strohls' and attorney Robert Hanlon for not filing timely motions.

"[The Strohls] have repeatedly missed their deadlines to file a response and the court has (on at least three different occasions) graciously excused their negligence and granted extensions," the decision reads. "The court refuses to do so again."

The judge ruled on the village's motion to dismiss the case, without a response from the Strohls', who never filed one.

When reached Friday, Hanlon said Judy Strohl has serious health problems preventing her from being available to the attorney, let alone called as a witness.

"She's unable to me as a participant in the lawsuit," Hanlon said. "I can't file an amendment that needs her participation because she's incapacitated."

Hanlon said the lawsuit will be refiled in state court if Judy Strohl's health improves.

"The case isn't over," he said.

In court documents, Reinhard said home tours were not constitutionally protected and dismissed that charge outright. Courts have routinely upheld a municipality's authority to require a special-use permit, the judge said.

"The amendment [ordinance] only requires that plaintiffs obtain a special-use permit before engaging in home tours and other activities of the sort. It does not forbid them from engaging in these activities completely," the judge wrote.

Also at issue, the Strohls said the zoning ordinance amounts to an unconstitutional taking of their property, though they never applied for a special-use permit.

The judge also threw that out, but said the Strohls can refile in state court only after they've first applied for and wish to challenge a special-use permit.

Under the village's home tour ordinance, those permits can cost anywhere from $300 to $500, and the Strohls would be subject to period inspections by the village and face other restrictions.

The Strohls have been at odds with the village and neighbors for years. A 2011 lawsuit accused neighbors of writing down the license plate numbers of Bettendorf Castle visitors and having a Chicago police officer run the numbers to obtain their personal information. The neighbors were accused of calling the visitors and asking them not to return to the castle.

The Chicago police officer, Jennifer Martin, was fired from the department in July after the Chicago Police Board found her guilty of illegally running license plates for Fox River Grove resident Diana Durso.

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