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On Jan. 21, 2014, State Senator Pamela Althoff introduced a bill (SB 2647) to make school districts subject to municipal zoning ordinances.  Senate Bill 2647 would amend section 10-22.13a of the School Code (105 ILCS 5/10-22.13a) and reads in relevant part as follows:

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. The changes to this Section made by this amendatory Act of the 98th General Assembly are declarative of existing law and do not change the substantive operation of this Section.

Whether school districts are subject to municipal zoning ordinances is a matter of longstanding debate.  This issue came to a head recently with litigation between the City of Crystal Lake and Community High School District 155, in McHenry County, regarding the District’s construction of bleachers near the backyards of some Crystal Lake residents.  Judge Michael Chmiel ruled on Dec. 18, 2013, that the District was subject to the City’s zoning and building regulations, and was required to go through the City’s planning processes before it could construct the bleachers.

The District filed a notice of appeal and as such the judgment is not yet final.  An appellate decision would leave several open questions as to what types of school construction are subject to what kinds of regulation from what kinds of municipalities.  For example, Judge Chmiel’s decision cited the City’s home rule status, and if the decision is affirmed on all counts, non-home rule municipalities may not have the same authority over school districts.

Senate Bill 2647 would make for a clearer division of authority.  It states without exception that school districts and school boards are subject to all valid local government zoning ordinances which may apply to the school district’s land.  By stating that it is “declaratory of existing law,” SB 2647 would likely apply retroactively and provide other aggrieved municipalities with a remedy against school district construction that did not comply with the applicable zoning regulations -— subject, of course, to statutes of limitations and possible hardships and vested rights.

The bill unanimously passed the Education Committee on Feb. 26, 2014, and is currently scheduled for its third reading in the Senate.  ZRFM will keep you updated as this bill progresses through the legislature.

Gregory J. Barry

Author: Gregory J. Barry