Cook County Record

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Village removes castle owners' suit over ordinance to federal court

By Jonathan Bilyk | Nov 11, 2013

A federal court has been asked to decide whether a village government in McHenry County violated the constitutional rights of the owners of a medieval-style castle when the village board enacted an ordinance to regulate “home tours” and other gatherings at the castle.

On Nov. 4, the village of Fox River Grove filed a notice of removal to transfer a suit brought by the castle owners, Michael and Judy Strohl, to Chicago's federal court.

The case had been filed in McHenry County Circuit Court in September by the Strohls through their attorney, Robert T. Hanlon, of Woodstock.

The village of Fox River Grove’s notice of removal was filed by attorneys Thomas G. DiCianni and Julie A. Tappendorf, of the firm of Ancel, Glink, Diamond, Bush, DiCianni & Krafthefer, of Chicago.

In the September 13 complaint, the Strohls allege that a recently enacted amendment to the village’s zoning ordinance singles out for regulation their property, a “full and complete medieval-type castle” constructed in the 1960s and known locally as the Bettendorf Castle.

The couple asserts in the complaint that the amendment to the village’s zoning ordinance deprives them of their constitutionally protected freedoms of association, speech and peaceable assembly, and essentially prohibits the Strohls “from having a member of the public to their home for any purpose or event without first obtaining permission from the village of Fox River Grove.”

The Strolhs assert the restrictions amount to “an unauthorized taking of their property rights without due process of law.”

The matter arose after the Fox River Grove village board on Sept. 5, by a 5-1 vote, amended the zoning ordinance to require a special use permit for “home tours or special community related events or activities or both that involve members of the public, whether or not any fee or donation is involved” at a home with “special architectural or historical significance.”

That ordinance, in turn, had followed a McHenry County Circuit Court decision that found the Strohls were not in violation of the village’s existing zoning ordinances for conducting gathering and tours of the castle, despite being cited by the village’s police.

The property was designated as a historical site in 2011 by the McHenry County Historical Society, the only such property to receive the distinction in Fox River Grove. The property regularly draws curious visitors, as it boasts eight towers, a guard room, bugle tower, castle yard, enclosed sun porch, modern kitchen, garage, dungeon, and a wishing well.

It was constructed from 1931-1967 by former owner Terry Bettendorf. Court documents state that it is believed to be “the only castle ever constructed by just one man.”

In addition to tours, the Strohls said they also would host an annual Easter egg hunt on the castle grounds, and other gatherings, including for political purposes.

The Strohls said in their complaint that the new regulations in the ordinance would apply to no other homes in Fox River Grove,  making the new rules “an impermissible instance of spot zoning.”

They also allege that they and their guests had been the subject of harassment from village officials and neighbors in the weeks and months leading up to the overturned zoning citations and the vote to change the zoning ordinance.

The Strohls had asked the court to block the implementation of the zoning ordinance amendment and to award them at least $750,000.

In its notice of removal, the village notes simply that the matter involves “a federal question” pertaining to the potential conflict between the village’s zoning ordinance and the Strohls’ constitutional rights.

Under federal law, civil actions can be removed from a state court to federal court when defendants file notice, so long as such cases meet the requirements to be tried in federal court.

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