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Wilmette Pk. Dist. v. Vil. of Wilmette





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


This appeal requires us to determine whether a park district, in exercising its statutory authority over the operation of its parks, is exempt from zoning ordinances of its host municipality. The parties are the Wilmette Park District (park district), organized and operating under the Park District Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 105, par. 1-1 et seq.), and the village of Wilmette (village), a home rule municipality. On March 29, 1984, the park district filed a complaint in the circuit court of Cook County for declaratory judgment, injunctive, and other relief. Specifically, the complaint requested the circuit court to find that the park district was not subject to the village's zoning ordinance and that it did not have to apply for a special use permit to install new lights on property known as the Village Green. The complaint also requested that the court declare null and void the village's revocation of an electrical permit that it issued to the park district to install lights on the Village Green. After a hearing based on the pleadings, memoranda of the parties, and argument by counsel, the court entered a declaratory judgment in favor of the park district. The appellate court reversed (134 Ill. App.3d 657), and we granted the park district leave to appeal (94 Ill.2d R. 315(a)).

This dispute involves two parcels of land which the park district recently consolidated to form a recreational area and park known as Howard Park. The parcel known as the Village Green has been owned by the village since 1921 and used as a recreational park for over 60 years, including lighted evening activities since 1946. In 1973, the park district obtained jurisdiction over the Village Green by lease after the village adopted an ordinance relinquishing all responsibility for recreation in Wilmette to the park district.

The Howard School was located on approximately six acres of land immediately east of the Village Green until it closed in 1979. After several public hearings and an advisory referendum, the village, park district, and the Wilmette school board decided that the Howard School parcel would be best utilized if sold to the village. The village would, in turn, demolish the school and lease the site to the park district. The plan further envisioned that the park district would develop and then consolidate the Village Green and Howard School parcels to form the aforementioned enlarged recreational area, Howard Park.

On March 7, 1983, following the village's purchase of the Howard School parcel, the village and park district entered into a 30-year lease which cancelled the 1973 lease and included both the Howard School and Village Green parcels. Paragraph 6(a) of the 1983 lease incorporates a list of general improvements to be made by the park district at its expense and "as promptly as practicable," including "utilities and lighting" at an estimate of $48,000. The lease also provides in paragraph 6(b) that the park district could make other improvements without the consent of the village. However, paragraph 6(c) of the lease provides:

"This paragraph 6 is not intended to affect the obligations, if any, of either party from compliance with the requirements of the Zoning Ordinance of the Village of Wilmette."

In December 1982, the park district relocated the Village Green athletic fields in coordination with plans for the adjoining Howard School parcel. At this time, the existing lights for the athletic fields were removed to facilitate reconfiguration of the fields. In August 1983, the park district obtained from the village's director of community development an electrical permit to install replacement lighting for the Village Green athletic fields. The village maintains that its officials issued the electrical permit based upon representations by the park district that the proposed lights would be no more intense or glaring than the lights they were to replace, and that none of the new lights would exceed 60 feet in height.

In October 1983, the village, as owner of the Howard School parcel, applied to its zoning board of appeals for a special use permit to allow the use to change from that of a public school to a recreational area. The zoning board hearing was scheduled for November 16, 1983. The park district denies the village's claim that the need for a special use permit for the Howard School parcel was made clear during preliminary discussions regarding the development of Howard Park. Matters complicated in the week before the zoning board hearing when the park district, relying on the previously issued electrical permit, substantially completed installation of the new lights. In fact, the completion of the wiring and alignment of the lights was the only work remaining before the lights would become operable.

The new installation included eight light towers ranging in height from 65.54 feet to 68.41 feet (compared to the original seven towers 60 feet in height), and supported a total of 52 fixtures with 1,000 watts in each luminaire. Five of the eight towers were relocated on the Village Green, and the remaining three new light towers were placed on the Howard School parcel.

The installation of the new lights generated a high level of community interest and concern. At the zoning board hearing on November 16, 1983, a large number of persons living near the park attended to voice opposition to the new lights. After the board chairman ruled that the testimony regarding lights on the Village Green could not be considered at a hearing on a special use application for the Howard School parcel, the zoning board voted to recommend to the village board of trustees that the special use permit should be granted for the Howard School parcel.

On December 6, 1983, the village board of trustees decided that Howard Park should be treated as a single entity, rather than divided for zoning purposes, and that a new special use application covering the entire Howard Park should be filed so that the zoning board could properly consider the issue of the Village Green lights. The village filed a special use application for Howard Park in its entirety on December 23, 1983, and a hearing was scheduled for March 24, 1984. By letter dated March 8, 1984, the park district informed the village that it would not participate in the scheduled special use hearing. Subsequent efforts by park district and village officials to resolve the zoning conflict failed, and on March 20, 1984, the village revoked the electrical permit previously issued to the park district. Shortly thereafter, the park district filed this lawsuit.

We recognize the significant competing interests and statutory authority of the park district and the village. On the one hand, it is undisputed that the installation of lights at Howard Park is a proper park purpose under the Park District Code. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 105, par. 8-1.) On the other hand, the Illinois Municipal Code authorizes all municipalities, home rule or otherwise, to adopt zoning ordinances which divide the entire municipality into zoning districts (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 24, par. 11-13-1), and provides that special use categories may include public and quasi-public uses "affected with the public interest." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 24, par. 11-13-1.1.) This court has likewise determined that zoning and land-use planning are within the home rule power under section 6(a) of article VII of our Illinois Constitution. County of Cook v. John Sexton Contractors Co. (1979), 75 Ill.2d 494, 516.

The Illinois Association of Park Districts, as amici for the park district, submits that when there is conflict between two units of local government, "the respective powers of each are to be given effect as fully as possible, but one government unit may not enforce its laws so as to frustrate basic statutory purposes and functions of the other." The park district argues that it has and will be thwarted or frustrated in exercising its statutory obligation to maintain and operate its parks if it must comply with the village's zoning ordinance. The appellate court observed, however, that "there is nothing in the record before us showing that the village in the administration of its zoning law has to date in any way hampered, thwarted, or frustrated the park district in its statutory duty to maintain and operate parks." (134 Ill. App.3d 657, 661.) The park district maintains that it has in fact been frustrated in its duty to operate parks because the revocation of the electrical permit for the Village Green lights prevented ...

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