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Sinclair Pipe Line v. Richton Park





APPEAL from the Superior Court of Cook County; the Hon. DONALD S. McKINLAY, Judge, presiding.


Three questions are presented for decision in this zoning case. The first is whether the plaintiffs are entitled to maintain the action against the contention that they failed to exhaust their administrative remedies before commencing it. The second involves the correctness of the judgment of the trial court in holding the provisions of the applicable zoning ordinance unreasonable and invalid insofar as it applies to the property of the plaintiffs. The third concerns the kind of relief that may be ordered by a court after it has determined that an existing zoning ordinance is invalid.

The property involved is 15 acres of undeveloped farm land owned by the plaintiffs as tenants in common. It is located on the west side of Illinois Highway 54 (Governor's Highway), approximately one-half mile south of its intersection with Sauk Trail in Richton Township, Cook County. The property was acquired by the plaintiffs in 1955. Prior to their purchase, it had been annexed to the village of Richton Park. Subsequent to the purchase, this property, together with another 30-acre tract owned by the plaintiffs which is not in issue, was disconnected from the village. Under the provisions of the Cook County zoning ordinance, the property was automatically classified as R-3 upon disconnection from the village of Richton Park. The basic use in this classification is single-family residences with a minimum of 20,000 square feet per lot.

Before they began this action the plaintiffs petitioned the county board of commissioners for an amendment to the zoning ordinance reclassifying the property in question from R-3 to I-1 (light industry). The petition was referred to the zoning board of appeals for hearing and recommendation. The board recommended that the amendment be adopted, but it failed to receive the requisite majority of the board of commissioners and was not adopted.

The complaint prayed for a judgment declaring the zoning ordinance invalid and void as applied to plaintiffs' property on the basis that the existing R-3 classification was arbitrary and unreasonable. The defendants contend that the plaintiffs are not entitled to litigate that issue in this proceeding because they failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. This contention is based on the premise that although plaintiffs were unsuccessful in their petition for an amendment to the ordinance, they were required also to seek a variation before commencing this action.

It is true that, unlike zoning statutes in many States, the County Zoning Enabling Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1959, chap. 34, pars. 3151-3204) allows use variations. Zoning regulations may be varied, however, only in harmony with their general purpose when "practical difficulties or particular hardship" make enforcement of the "strict letter" of existing restrictions unreasonable. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1959, chap. 34, par. 3154.) The variation procedure as prescribed in the act is designed to provide a flexible method for relaxing the rigid requirements of the ordinance in cases of individual need. It is not designed to work major changes in the zoning plan. Amendments by the legislative body are available for that purpose. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1959, chap. 34, par. 3158.

The property here involved is a large tract that constituted a major portion of the residential zone of which it is a part. A variation for an industrial use would radically alter the nature of the entire zone. Under these circumstances the authority of the zoning board of appeals to grant a variation is open to serious question. An aggrieved landowner must make reasonable efforts to obtain local relief before bringing his grievance to court. But we do not believe that he should be compelled to expend his time and resources seeking relief that may be beyond the authority of local officials to give. We hold therefore that under these circumstances the plaintiffs' efforts to obtain local relief by way of amendment to the zoning ordinance were reasonable, and were sufficient to entitle them to maintain this action.

A description of the property and the surrounding area is necessary for a consideration of the issue of the validity of the ordinance in so far as it classified the plaintiffs' property for residential use. Adjoining the property in question on the south is a 26-acre tract, also owned by the plaintiffs, on which there are located two 96,000-barrel crude oil storage tanks and one 80,000-barrel crude oil storage tank. A one-story building which houses a communication center, machinery and pumps which regulate the flow of oil to and from the tanks is located on the property here involved, together with a 6,000-barrel water pond and a well used in connection with an automatic fire extinguisher system. The plaintiffs also own another 30-acre tract extending north from the west side of the subject property to the Sauk Trail.

Plaintiffs' 26-acre tract has always been in the unincorporated area of the county and is zoned I-1, a light industry classification. Approximately eight of the 26 acres were so zoned at the time the original county zoning ordinance was adopted in 1940. By an amendment to the ordinance in 1952, the remaining 18 acres were so classified.

Fronting on Highway 54 and adjacent to the 26-acre tract are two houses. At the rear of the southernmost house there is a large commercial-type garage and storage yard in which are located sandblasting and welding machinery, trucks and some old truck bodies classified as junk. A sign erected on Highway 54 advertises that welding and sandblasting operations are conducted on the premises.

A platted subdivision containing approximately 83 lots extends southward from the intersection of Sauk Trail and Highway 54 to within approximately 200 yards of the subject premises. This subdivision has been in existence since 1941. Neither sales of lots nor construction of homes has taken place within the subdivision from the time it was recorded to the time of trial, and the land is devoted to agricultural uses.

South of the 26 acres on which the three existing crude oil tanks are located is a subdivision which is zoned in the F (farming) district. The plat of this subdivision was recorded ten months after the last 18 acres of the 26-acre tract adjoining it on the north had been zoned for light industry. Approximately 25 single-family residences have been erected in this subdivision. To the south of this subdivision is a private airport. West of the subject property, from the private airport north to Sauk Trail, the land is devoted to agricultural uses.

On the east side of Highway 54, approximately 400 or 500 feet north of the subject premises, a large lumber yard is in the process of construction. The main line of the Illinois Central railroad lies immediately east of and parallel to State Highway 54, and this property is served by a spur track of that railroad.

The three tanks located on the 26 acres adjoining the subject premises were established to store crude oil brought by underground pipe lines from oil fields in the southern and southwestern States. Upon demand the oil is pumped from the tanks to nearby refineries. No oil is transported to or from the tanks by ...

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