Appellate Court Rules Against High School in Crystal Lake Zoning Case


Appellate Court Rules Against High School in Crystal Lake Zoning Case

Sep 19, 2014

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The Second District Appellate Court in a recent case, Gurba v. Community High School District No. 155, 2014 IL App (2d) 140098 (2d Dist. 2014), ruled that Community High School District No. 155 (“High School”) was subject to the City of Crystal Lake’s Zoning Ordinance.  In this case, the High School reconstructed and relocated its home bleachers but did not seek zoning approval from the City.  Disgruntled neighbors sued the High School to enforce the zoning ordinance and the City was brought into the case.  After the trial court decided that the High School was subject to the City’s zoning ordinances, the High School appealed.  In its decision, the Appellate Court agreed with the trial court and thus has set precedent that will affect school districts that face conflicts with municipalities over zoning and land use issues. 

The High School argued that because public education is a matter of statewide concern, the City’s zoning ordinances cannot be effective against the High School, as the High School is a State-authorized institution implementing public education.  The Appellate Court disagreed that the City’s zoning ordinance was ineffective as to the High School.  The Court looked at the provisions in the constitution concerning home-rule municipalities and concerning school districts and decided that, in the case of a conflict between a home-rule unit and a school district, there is a slight bias towards the home-rule unit.  Significant to the Court’s analysis was that the constitution expressly grants home-rule municipalities “primacy” within its corporate boundaries.  Since zoning provisions have long been held to be an appropriate exercise of a home-rule unit’s power and since zoning regulations do not speak to the topic of public education, the City’s primacy remains and the High School was subject to the City’s zoning regulations. 

The Court explained that, while a home-rule municipality may enforce zoning ordinances against a school district, the municipality would be beyond its home-rule authority if, for example, the municipality passed ordinances that infringe upon the realm of public education, such as by changing local graduation requirements or the curriculum offered by a school district.

The impact of this decision is that it is now clear that school districts are subject to the zoning of the municipality in which the school districts sit.  The Court did not address what would happen if, for example, municipal zoning frustrates or prevents a school district’s ability to fulfill its statutory duties regarding the provision of public education.  Previous Attorney General opinions and the Illinois Supreme Court have indicated that school districts and park districts might be entitled to judicial relief in such a situation.  The Appellate Court stated that such a fact scenario was not presented in the case. 

Should you have any questions concerning this case or the impact of the case in specific circumstances, please do not hesitate to contact a Robbins Schwartz attorney.