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Kambich v. The Village of Riverwoods

November 17, 1999

CAROLYN A. KAMBICH, AND DEERFIELD MONTESSORI SCHOOL, INC., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
V.
THE VILLAGE OF RIVERWOODS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 98--CH--012 Honorable Emilio Santi, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN

The defendant, the Village of Riverwoods (the Village), appeals the trial court's judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, Carolyn Kambich and the Deerfield Montessori School, Inc. (collectively, the School), finding the Village's special use ordinance invalid and amending the ordinance to allow a maximum of 170 students at the School. We reverse.

The following facts are taken from the record. The plaintiffs, Carolyn Kambich and the Deerfield Montessori School, Inc., filed a two-count complaint against the defendant, the Village of Riverwoods. In count I, based on the theory of equitable estoppel, the School sought to enjoin the Village from enforcing an amended special use ordinance limiting the plaintiffs to 120 students. Count I also sought an order declaring the ordinance invalid and recognizing the School's vested property rights in continuing to use the property as a school without any numerical, age, or other limitation on enrollment. Count II alleged that the amended special use ordinance was invalid because it was arbitrary and capricious and bore no substantial relation to the public health, safety, or general welfare. Count II sought an injunction and an order declaring the ordinance invalid and recognizing the School's vested property rights in the continuing use of the property as a school without any numerical, age, or other limitation.

Plaintiff Carolyn Kambich was the beneficial owner of property commonly known as 3140 Riverwoods Road, or lot 9, in the Vernon Oaks subdivision of the Village of Riverwoods. Plaintiff Deerfield Montessori School, Inc., provided preschool and grade school education to children at that and three other locations. Carolyn and her husband, Anthony Kambich, owned and operated the school, as well as other facilities, leasing the property from a trust for $20,000 a month. Carolyn held the beneficial interest to that trust and was the secretary and executive director of the school. Carolyn and Anthony Kambich received salaries and bonuses of $140,000 a year and $70,000, respectively. Their daughter, Lisa Kambich Courtney, who taught and did administrative work, received a salary of $40,000; their sons, Anthony Jr. and Douglas Kambich, did part-time work for the school organization.

In 1986, the School purchased property in the Village of Riverwoods for the purpose of operating a Montessori school. The property included two buildings on a 10-acre lot. At the time the property was zoned for residential use. On March 19, 1986, the School requested and the Village adopted ordinance No. 86--3--7, which granted a special use for the property. The special use ordinance was limited to the two existing buildings, the 2,000- square-foot farmhouse and the 2,500-square-foot flat-roofed building. At the time, the School represented that the buildings could accommodate 67 students, 22 in the farmhouse and 45 in the flat-roofed building.

In 1989, the School purchased an adjoining three-acre lot, making the total acreage of the site approximately 13 acres. The newly acquired property was zoned as an R-1 42,000-square-foot single-family residence district. One of the lots, which occupied approximately 3.4 acres, was occupied by the School. The Kambiches developed the remaining eight lots with single-family homes and sold the lots for $125,000 and $135,000. Each lot was improved with a single-family home ranging in value from $1.1 to $1.5 million.

Then in 1996, Anthony announced at a Vernon Trails Homeowners Association (Homeowners Association) meeting plans to replace the existing farmhouse with a 10,000-square-foot two-story building in the nature of a single-family residence. David Ritter, a Vernon Trails subdivision homeowner, testified that Anthony told the attendees that he expected an additional eight or nine students.

In January 1996, the Kambiches met with Village trustee Elmer Ciesel, an architect and the Village building official. According to Ciesel, the Kambiches informed Ciesel that they planned to build a replacement building for the farmhouse and that they expected an additional seven or eight students. In March 1997, Anthony Kambich again announced plans to increase enrollment by six to eight students. At the time there were 67 students at the school. At trial, Anthony Kambich denied ever telling the Homeowners Association or anyone associated with the Village that he would not have more than 80 students.

By April 10, 1997, the new building had been built; however, it was a single-story structure, instead of the two-story single-family style structure originally planned. In June 1997, the farmhouse was demolished.

In June 1997, David Abell, an attorney for the school, applied to the Village for an amendment to the special use permit. The application stated that the "contemplated use is essentially the same as presently conducted on the property."

On August 7 and 11, 1997, hearings were held on the application before the Village plan commission (Commission). The Village then met on August 18, 1997, and recommended the approval of an amendment for special use with several conditions, including a numerical limitation of no more than 120 children present each day. On September 3, 1997, the Village adopted the amended special use ordinance, ordinance No. 97--9--13, containing the conditions recommended by the Commission.

Frank H. Whipple, a real estate appraiser, testified that an increase to up to 225 students would not adversely affect the surrounding properties. However, he acknowledged that the increase in students would increase the activity on the site and the traffic coming to the site.

Jacques Gourguechon, a city planning consultant, testified that 225 students would have only a minimal impact on the surrounding area and would be an appropriate and harmonious use of property in the neighborhood.

Gerald Lindgren, a traffic engineer, testified that he conducted numerous studies and concluded that traffic for 225 students a day could be sufficiently ...


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