In 2013, several Deerfield residents sued the village of Deerfield alleging that village officials erred in granting the Fresh Thyme grocery store a special use permit to open.
The suit was twice tossed out of court, but not before Deerfield spent more than $40,000 in legal costs defending itself.
Illinois REALTORS® Local Government Affairs Director Howard Handler has written a letter to the editor which outlines the issue and why change is needed. You can read it here.
In an effort to financially protect the village, an ordinance was subsequently adopted requiring applicants for special uses, map amendments, zoning text amendments, and variations to indemnify the village for legal fees incurred defending the approval of such land use requests.
Deerfield officials argued that the beneficiary of the zoning relief should shield the village and its taxpayers from any litigation.
While such an ordinance – the first known of its kind in Illinois — was certainly adopted with good intentions, it does not stand on its own merits.
The zoning code is recognized as imperfect. The ability to appeal the code is not just a fundamental property right, but it is a function of village government. Requiring individual Deerfield taxpayers to defend their municipal government from its own decisions is imprudent, and could be financially devastating to a single property owner.
Worse, the ordinance requires Deerfield property owners to indemnify the village even in cases when village officials were grossly negligent, and the ordinance does not even afford the property owner, who ultimately is on the hook for all legal costs, a say in the legal strategy or settlement negotiations.
The risk of litigation accompanies each and every act by municipal officials. Arresting a suspected criminal or denying a business license also subjects Deerfield to potential legal action.
Ironically, adoption of this untested ordinance puts Deerfield (and its taxpayers) at risk for an expensive legal challenge. It is a cost that goes along with running a village, and a cost the residents of the community understand.
Howard Handler serves as Government Affairs Director for the North Shore – Barrington Association of REALTORS® (NSBAR), and is a resident of Deerfield and a member of the Deerfield Library Board of Trustees. NSBAR, comprised of 3,600 real estate professionals, is the area’s leading voice for real estate.