Fox River Grove zoning board split on allowing tours at Bettendorf Castle

The Fox River Grove Zoning Board of Appeals voted, 3-3, Wednesday night in their recommendation to grant the owners of Bettendorf Castle a special use permit for tours.

The board also ruled unanimously against granting a series of seven variances that would allow the castle to host weddings, banquets and more.

Chairman Dan Celske and members Richard Murren and Fred Rosch all ruled in favor, with Murren saying that castle tours will benefit the town.

“The downtown area is so depressed,” Murren said. “This will help with our town’s tourism, our small businesses and help generate tax dollars to us.”

Despite their positive recommendations, both Celske and Rosch reported potential problems that could come with the castle running as a “full-blown business,” such as buses blocking traffic and running up and down the narrow streets of Concord Avenue.

“For a long time I have felt that the castle is an asset to the town,” Celske said. “With big crowds for big events, you’re going to have a substantial impact on the neighborhood, and that’s what our zoning laws are here to protect.”

Echoing similar sentiments, members Viki Karls, Gig Weber and Patrick Riley were not in favor of granting castle owner Michael Strohl permission to hold tours of the castle, citing concerns of damage to neighboring property, transportation access and “disturbing the peace.”

Before the members discussed recommendations to the petition and cast their votes, Strohl and six local residents spoke before the board. Five residents stated their objection to Strohl’s petition, with amplified music and the sale of food and liquor from the castle among some of the concerns voiced.

Jennifer Long, who has lived across the street from the castle for 20 years, said she believes the only reason the Strohls are interested in giving tours is not for the betterment of the community, but rather an “opportunity to earn income.”

“Until recently, [the castle] was their home, and they did not like people stopping by or taking pictures,” Long said. “The notion that this is somehow good for the community is ridiculous."

Amid the concerns and opposition, Strohl was given an opportunity to speak on behalf of the castle and the importance of having home tours.

“We want the people of the town to experience the castle and its beauty,” Strohl said. “Without the upkeep, the castle will disintegrate.”

The Village Board likely will consider granting the permit at its meeting July 5.

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