Previously, we reported on a case involving a school district that had constructed bleachers without obtaining city zoning approvals. The neighboring property owners sued the school district, which brought the city into the case. The district defended its actions by claiming it was exempt from local zoning. The trial court disagreed, ruling that school district's cannot ignore local zoning regulations.
That ruling was appealed to the Illinois appellate court, which just issued a ruling yesterday. In Gurba v. Community HS Dist. 155, the appellate court upheld the trial court's ruling that the school district was required to obtain zoning approvals prior to installing the bleachers.
The appellate court rejected the school district's argument that the city was preempted from applying its zoning regulations on school property because the state constitution declares public education to be a matter of statewide concern. The court first noted that the city was a home-rule municipality with the power to enact and enforce zoning ordinances. While a home rule unit cannot enact ordinances that infringe upon public education, the court concluded that land-use regulations have no inherent impact on the substance of public education. Moreover, the court determined that the Illinois School Code expressly authorizes school districts to seek zoning relief for property it holds. That authorization would have no meaning if a school district were exempt from local zoning.
This is a good decision for municipalities that may have had to defend their local ordinances against claims by some school districts that they are exempt from zoning. This decision does not change the fact that school districts have their own building code (contained in the Illinois School Code) but should clear up any misunderstanding about application of zoning regulations to school buildings and facilities.
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf