Earlier this week, Illinois Senate Bill 2186 passed both houses of the General Assembly. This bill addresses local zoning controls over school districts. As long-time readers know, the Illinois Supreme Court made it clear that schools are subject to local zoning in the case involving the Crystal Lake School District's installation of bleachers on its property that violated the City's zoning regulations.
The version of SB 2186 that was introduced was straightforward. That bill would have amended the School Code to make it clear that schools are subject to local zoning, consistent with the Illinois Supreme Court's decision referenced above. The version of SB 2186 that was approved by both houses, however, goes beyond the Supreme Court's ruling, and places additional demands and burdens on local zoning officials in processing school zoning applications.
First, the bill prohibits the local zoning authority (municipality, county, or township) from regulating educational activities and frustrating school district's statutory duties.
Second, the bill requires the local zoning authority to change its otherwise applicable zoning process so that school districts are subject to a special, streamlined process.
Third, the bill requires the local zoning authority to "minimize the administrative burdens involved in the zoning review process" specially for school districts. Examples include the following:
- reduce application fees and costs for school districts.
- limit the number of times the school district must amend its site plans.
- limit the number of copies of site plans and any other documents required to be submitted by the municipality.
- expedite the zoning review process to require the local zoning authority to render a decision on the school district's zoning application within 90 days after a completed application is submitted.
These new procedural requirements could certainly place an undue burden on local zoning authorities to treat school districts more preferentially than any other zoning applicant. They are also not very clearly drafted, which could create confusion and increase the likelihood of disputes between school districts and municipalities. This bill raises a number of questions, among the following:
- How many site plan amendments are acceptable? 2, 3, 10?
- What about the number of copies of plans? Enough for the hearing body and corporate authorities? What if the school district only provides 3 copies, and there are 7 members on the zoning hearing body - is the local zoning authority responsible for making the additional copies? What about copies for the corporate authorities? Why place that burden on another governmental entity, when it is the school district that is requesting the zoning relief?
- What if other development applications are submitted prior to the school district's submittal - must these applications be deferred to make sure the municipality can render a decision on the school district's application within the 90 days? How does that affect due process for these other applicants?
- Who decides whether an application is complete?
- What is the remedy if the local government fails to render the decision in 90 days?
There are a lot of unanswered questions with this proposed legislation, and hopefully local zoning authorities will get answers before this bill becomes law.
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf