Crime & Courts

Grand Bear homeowners keep lawsuit against Utica alive

Judge refuses Utica’s bid to throw out the case

gavel

Some Grand Bear vacation homeowners think they are unfairly treated under Utica’s annexation agreement. A judge is giving them a chance to prove it.

Thursday, La Salle County Circuit Judge Troy D. Holland denied Utica’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by homeowners who want to rent out their units using AirBNB. Those rentals are instead controlled by Grand Bear Resort at Starved Rock, owned by the Sonnenschein Groupe.

“It’s a promising ruling,” said Lombard attorney Michael A. Kraft, who represents the homeowners. “I think the judge has indicated and established there is disparate treatment and that Sonnenschein is the favorite son here.

“It’s somewhat disillusioning that the village has taken the position of favoring one property owner over the rights of other property owners.”

The lawsuit began in 2020 when more than than a dozen unit owners sued for the right to rent out their homes on a short-term basis. When they struck out in federal court, they sued in La Salle County. They argued Grand Bear’s annexation agreement with Utica included a resort-run rental pool they felt was restrictive.

The case was assigned to Holland, who in July threw out most of the counts brought by the homeowners. The judge did, however, preserve the owners’ right to pursue a claim they were treated differently than other vacation owners.

Utica then filed a new motion to dismiss, asking Holland to throw out the equal protection claim, too. This time, Holland refused.

“While the village may be able to regulate health and safety aspects of the villas/cabins through ordinances and regulations,” Holland wrote Thursday, “(the homeowners) allege that the village cannot...outright deny (an owner) the right to rent or otherwise require (owners) to only rent their villas/cabins through the hotel operator.”

The case continues and there will be a status hearing on Feb. 24.

Herb Klein, Utica village attorney, said he’s reviewing Holland’s ruling.

“In general, a motion to dismiss at the pleadings stage, as the Village sought, is not easily obtained,” Klein said. “In prior rulings the court dismissed nine counts against the village. I note that this order of the court as to the now existing counts states that it is specifically not making any determination as to the merits of the allegations against the village.”