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Cosmopolitan Nat'l Bank v. County of Cook

OPINION FILED SEPTEMBER 20, 1984.

COSMOPOLITAN NATIONAL BANK, TRUSTEE, ET AL., APPELLEES,

v.

THE COUNTY OF COOK ET AL., APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, the Hon. Arthur L. Dunne, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE SIMON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

After a long and convoluted history, this case now comes before us on the straightforward questions whether the decree entered in the circuit court of Cook County is inherently self-contradictory and, if not, whether it is against the manifest weight of the evidence. A short review of the history of the case is necessary to establish our perspective.

In 1974, John Sexton Contractors and Eileen Sexton, through Cosmopolitan National Bank Trust No. 21257 (Sexton), acquired the subject property for the express purpose of developing and operating a sanitary landfill. The property is located in an unincorporated area of Cook County, bounded on the east by Interstate 57 (I-57), on the west by Central Avenue, on the south by Sauk Trail, and on the north by railroad and utility rights-of-way. Cook County is a home rule unit. The primary objections to the landfill came from the village of Richton Park, which is located just across I-57 to the east, and particularly from residents of the Lakewood subdivision who live closest to the subject property. The property was zoned R-3, single-family residential (now relabeled as R-4), a classification which does not allow sanitary landfills. In May 1975 Sexton applied to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a permit to develop the property as a sanitary landfill. That permit was issued in August 1975 subject to certain standard EPA conditions, one of which was local zoning approval. In September 1975, this court decided Carlson v. Village of Worth (1975), 62 Ill.2d 406, which held that local zoning jurisdiction over sanitary landfills was preempted by the Environmental Protection Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 111 1/2, par. 1001 et seq.), which gave exclusive jurisdiction to the EPA. Sexton interpreted Carlson to mean that it need not comply with Cook County zoning ordinances by applying for a zoning change and a special-use permit from Cook County. During the period in which Sexton sought EPA approval, both Cook County and the village of Richton Park (the village) objected to Sexton's plan. In September 1976 the EPA issued a development permit, followed in May 1977 by findings of fact. The EPA operating permit was issued for the landfill on September 13, 1977, and operation commenced on September 28, 1977.

In March 1977, Cook County filed a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County against Sexton, alleging that the development work was in violation of the Cook County zoning ordinance and seeking to enjoin further development and operation of the landfill. The circuit court ruled in favor of Sexton, but on direct appeal (58 Ill.2d R. 302(b)), this court reversed (County of Cook v. John Sexton Contractors Co. (1979), 75 Ill.2d 494). This court held that the 1970 Constitution of the State of Illinois confers concurrent jurisdiction over sanitary landfills on the EPA and on home rule units of local government; Carlson and O'Connor v. City of Rockford (1972), 52 Ill.2d 360, were distinguished by observing that those cases did not involve home rule units. Based on that holding, the EPA has authority to regulate the landfill, but actual choice of site is subject to the home rule unit's zoning restrictions. On remand, the village intervened and the circuit court of Cook County granted a preliminary and permanent injunction against operation of the landfill and also granted the County's motion for judgment on the pleadings. The appellate court affirmed the injunction. (County of Cook v. John Sexton Contractors Co. (1980), 86 Ill. App.3d 673.) The landfill has remained closed since September 17, 1979.

Next, Sexton applied to Cook County to reclassify a portion of the property from R-4 single-family to P-2 Public Open Space recreational use and another portion from R-4 to I-1 restricted industrial, and also for a special-use permit to operate a sanitary landfill as an interim use of the subject property. The Cook County board of zoning appeals recommended that both the rezoning and special use be granted. However, the Cook County board of commissioners voted to deny both the rezoning and the application for special use as a sanitary landfill.

Sexton then filed the present action in the circuit court of Cook County seeking a declaratory judgment that the Cook County zoning ordinance is invalid insofar as it prohibits both the proposed industrial and open-space end uses of the subject property and the interim use as a sanitary landfill. The village again intervened. The circuit court held the ordinance invalid insofar as it prohibits the reclassification, but further held that plaintiffs had not met their burden of showing by clear and convincing evidence that they satisfied the six Cook County special-use criteria and therefore denied the requested interim use as a sanitary landfill. Sexton appealed from the portion of the judgment dealing with the special-use permit, and Cook County and the village cross-appealed from the portion holding the Cook County ordinance invalid insofar as it prohibits industrial and open-space uses on the subject property.

The appellate court reversed both portions of the judgment. (116 Ill. App.3d 1089.) The open-space and restricted industrial uses were invalidated as overly broad. As for the proposed interim use as a sanitary landfill, the appellate court found the trial court's order to be internally self-contradictory and certain witnesses for the village to be inherently unbelievable. It therefore accorded no weight to their testimony and held the portion of the order which dealt with the landfill to be against the manifest weight of the evidence. The county and the village appealed to this court, and we allowed the appeal. 87 Ill.2d R. 315.

I. Was the Circuit Court Order Internally Self-Contradictory?

We disagree with the appellate court's conclusion that the circuit court order is internally self-contradictory. The circuit judge was being asked to make two decisions based on distinct but remarkably similar criteria. He dealt first with the requested change from single-family residential to restricted industrial and open-space zoning. Concluding that this change was proper, he turned to the second question, whether a special-use permit should issue for the interim use as a sanitary landfill. The lengthy oral presentation of findings on overlapping criteria was obviously difficult to follow. This does not, however, mean that the findings are internally inconsistent.

Zoning ordinances, which must bear a reasonable relation to the public health, safety and welfare, are presumed valid. The party challenging the zoning bears the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence (National Boulevard Bank v. Village of Schaumburg (1980), 83 Ill.2d 228; Exchange National Bank v. County of Cook (1962), 25 Ill.2d 434, 439-40) that application of the ordinance to his property is unreasonable and arbitrary and bears no substantial relation to public health, safety, morals, or welfare. (Tomasek v. City of Des Plaines (1976), 64 Ill.2d 172; County of Cook v. Priester (1976), 62 Ill.2d 357; La Salle National Bank v. City of Evanston (1974), 57 Ill.2d 415.) A party seeking a special-use permit bears a similar burden. (Duggan v. County of Cook (1975), 60 Ill.2d 107, 110, disapproved on other grounds in Board of Education v. Surety Developers, Inc. (1975), 63 Ill.2d 193.) Therefore, the circuit judge in this case was required to determine separately whether Sexton had met its burden on each of the two questions.

When the circuit judge considered the evidence relating to the requested change from R-4 to P-2 and I-1 zoning he was guided by the standards announced in La Salle National Bank v. County of Cook (1957), 12 Ill.2d 40, 46-47. These include (1) the existing uses and zoning of nearby property, (2) the extent to which property values are diminished by the particular zoning restrictions, (3) the extent to which the destruction of plaintiff's property values promotes the health, safety, morals, or general welfare of the public, (4) relative gain to the public compared to hardship imposed upon the individual property owner, (5) the suitability of the subject property for the zoned purposes, and (6) the length of time the property has been vacant as zoned, considered in the context of land development in the vicinity. The circuit judge concluded that, with respect to each of these six factors, Sexton had shown that the R-4 zoning was arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable, as was the denial of the request to rezone the property to P-2 and I-1.

Next the judge turned to the separate question of the special-use permit for the sanitary landfill. He once again considered the six La Salle National Bank factors as they related to this question and, in addition, the six special-use standards established by the Cook County zoning ordinance. Those six standards are:

"1. That the establishment, maintenance, or operation of the special use will not be detrimental to or endanger the public health, safety, or general welfare.

2. That the special use will not be injurious to the use and enjoyment of other property in the immediate vicinity for the purposes already permitted, nor substantially diminish and impair property values within the neighborhood.

3. That the establishment of the special use will not impede the normal and orderly development and improvement of surrounding property ...


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