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Klein v. Village of La Grange

MARCH 26, 1968.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Law Division; the Hon. CHARLES S. DOUGHERTY, Judge, presiding. Judgment reversed and remanded with directions.


Plaintiffs, Bernard Klein, Orville Rusch and Elvira Rusch, instituted proceedings for a declaratory judgment in the Circuit Court against the defendant, Village of LaGrange, Illinois (hereinafter referred to as the Village) objecting to and requesting declaratory relief from what was alleged to have been the wrongful denial of their application for a special use permit by said Village's Board of Trustees. The application had proposed the construction of a two-story, 25-suite medical-dental clinic with ample adjacent parking facilities upon the plaintiffs' respectively owned contiguous and abutting parcels of land, the suggested use to utilize in area approximately 50,000 of the 56,000 square feet made available by their joint enterprise. The site was and continues to be classified within the "A" zoning classification of the Village ordinances (Single-Family Residence District), wherein "clinics" are a prohibited use absent the granting of a special permit by the proper authority.

Plaintiffs alleged by their complaint that the refusal by the Board of Trustees was an "unauthorized, invalid and unconstitutional exercise of power by the Village" for a use of the premises which plaintiffs had "a clear legal right" to establish and maintain under the provisions of the ordinance in question. The Village, by its answer, alleged inter alia, certain matters in special defense to the action, particularly objecting to the purported absence of jurisdiction in the court to compel the issuance of the special use permit. Issue joined, the cause was set down and proceeded to a bench trial.

On January 16, 1967, after hearing considerable testimony and argument, the court below entered its judgment which, among its other findings and conclusions, adjudged the Board of Trustees' denial of plaintiffs' special use application as arbitrary, capricious and devoid of substantial relation to the public health, safety and morals, further directing the forthwith issuance of the requested permit and perpetually enjoining the Village from interfering with plaintiffs in their construction and utilization of the subject property for clinic purposes. It is from the entry of this judgment order that the Village brings its appeal.

Ostensibly, a factual question presents itself on review involving the propriety of the municipally sanctioned denial of the special use application and whether the evidence adduced below adequately demonstrated that the proposed use was one answering to and within the meaning of the term "clinics" as it appears and is made the subject of a specially permitted use in the ordinance's "A" classification. The court must first consider the Village's principal contention on appeal; to wit, that the Circuit Court was without jurisdiction to order the allowance of the use and direct the Board of Trustees to issue a special permit accordingly. It presents a somewhat novel question, which if resolved in the Village's favor, would transcend the otherwise persuasive elements of plaintiffs' arguments before us, the facts of the case then as they pertain to our disposition on this single issue to be limited accordingly.

The circumstances attendant the instant controversy for such purpose appear relatively undisputed. Plaintiffs are owners of adjoining parcels of land fronting upon the northeast corner of 51st Street and Willow Springs Road (commonly referred to as Gilbert Avenue) in the Village. The combined tract lies entirely within the previously described "A" zoning district. Immediately adjacent said property, to the east and south, is the LaGrange Community Memorial General Hospital, its temporary and permanent parking facilities resting in closest proximity to and offsetting the proposed site of the clinic. Save two additional nonconforming structures (a teen-age club and high school) within two to three blocks north of the subject tract on Willow Springs Road, the surrounding vicinity is predominated by either vacant property or buildings of the single-family residence variety.

"Hospitals and clinics" as the description appears in the Village zoning ordinances, is a prohibited use, accessible only by means of the special use device, in each and every of the various zoning districts as they are defined therein. As to the grant of authority for control in this regard, that ordinance provides:

"The President and Board of Trustees may, by special permit after public hearing by the Zoning Board of Appeals, authorize the location of any of the following uses in any district, subject to such restrictions or safeguards as may be necessary to protect adjacent property, preserve or promote good neighborhood character, and protect the public health, public safety, and general welfare."

"3. Hospitals and clinics.

"Before issuing a special permit the President and Board of Trustees shall submit the application to the Village Plan Commission and request from said Commission a report upon the effect of the proposed building or use upon adjacent property, the character of the neighborhood, and traffic conditions, utility facilities, and other matters affecting the public health, public safety, and general welfare, and any required restrictions and safeguards. . . ." La Grange Municipal Code (1955) chapter 99, § 13.

In accordance therewith, plaintiffs, on May 4, 1965, filed their application with the Board of Trustees, which referred the matter for hearing, findings and recommendations to the Village Zoning Board of Appeals acting as the local Plan Commission. After full public hearings were conducted, the Zoning Board, on June 29, 1965 (as subsequently amended on July 12, 1965, in certain unimportant respects), unanimously recommended that the Board of Trustees issue the permit to plaintiffs for their proposed use of the subject premises as a clinic.

Receipt of same by the Board of Trustees was acknowledged at its meeting on November 22, 1965, and agreement being entered at that time to withhold action on plaintiffs' application pending further study. Thereafter, on February 14, 1966, without further hearings in the matter, the Board of Trustees voted to deny plaintiffs' special use application "at this time" offering by way of explanation: (1) their desire to inquire into the possible improvements the hospital might make upon its undeveloped property immediately adjacent to the subject site; and (2) the existence of commitments made to local residents involved in the annexation of this area that the properties would be retained in residential development. It was from such denial that plaintiffs successfully prosecuted their declaratory judgment action to the court below, predicated upon the aforesaid impropriety of action by the Village Board of Trustees.

The Village submits that the local Board of Trustees is a legislative body which acted in a legislative capacity in denying application. This it distinguishes from the administrative nature of the Zoning Board of Appeals. It is the thrust of its position on appeal that inasmuch as plaintiffs, by their complaint and proofs, have not sought to in any way impugn the constitutionality of the underlying zoning classification, rather limiting their attack to the arbitrary and capricious manner in which that Board made its rejection, the issuance of such permit having been shown to be one demanding of legislative judgment, the relief granted was by principles of separation of powers beyond the legitimate realm of judicial decree. Plaintiffs argue, on the other hand, that the Village's authorities connote no such conclusion, but to the contrary manifest the availability of judicial review from the wrongful denial of special use applications without making the suggested distinction. It is important to note at this juncture, however, that plaintiffs neither deny the legislative nature of the board, nor contend that their complaint and proofs endeavored to contest the constitutionality of the "A" classification by the terms of which the attempted utilization of the subject property was prohibited other than to argue that it was erroneously applied by the board.

Concomitant with the undisputed legislative genesis of the body whose conduct is under inquiry, we feel it only fair to initially dismiss from consideration as inappropriate the cases of Columbus Park Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, Inc. v. Board of Appeals of City of Chicago, 25 Ill.2d 65, 182 N.E.2d 722 (1962); Rosenfeld v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Chicago, 19 Ill. App.2d 447, 154 N.E.2d 323 (1958) and Illinois Bell Tel. Co. v. Fox, 402 Ill. 617, 85 N.E.2d 43 (1949), each, unlike the case at bar, having involved actions for administrative review or, as to the latter, in the nature of administrative review by certiorari, from adverse orders, in all instances, of the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals, an administrative agency. The foregoing precedent is of no aid of our present determination, as neither the ...

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