Pistakee Yacht Club, Johnsburg argue the club’s future, possible change to village ordinance

Ordinance tabled to March meeting after pleas from sailing club

Pistakee Yacht Club member Rob Bryson removes weeds from the lot the club uses to park sailboats and trailers on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023. The yacht club has been parking boats and trailers on a lot next to the club since 1970m with a variance from the county. The Village of Johnsburg says they are in violation and have to move them boats and trailers from the lot.

Past and current students of the Community Sailing School at Pistakee testified to the Johnsburg Village Board for more than an hour Thursday night about how the school and learning to sail have improved their lives.

The board knows how important the organization is to the community, Village President Ed Hettermann said following the public comment portion of the meeting that had about 70 people in attendance, concerned the village may be trying to close the Pistakee Yacht Club.

“Nobody on this board is trying to see the yacht club or the sailing school go,” Hettermann said, adding he did not know how “that rumor started.”

The sailing school leadership last week asked all those on its email list to reach out to the board over its concern about a Johnsburg ordinance change that would increase fines for zoning violations and place the burden of proof for zoning issues on the property owner.

Trustees received “50 emails this week” from Pistakee Yacht Club propoents, all of which received a formatted response from Hettermann.

In that email, Hettermann claims the situation “has been misrepresented to you.”

Johnsburg and the yacht club have been locked in the dispute since late last spring over a back lot owned by the club that is used for sailboat storage. That dispute is now in McHenry County courts, as each has sued the other.

The yacht club and the sailing club are separate entities with separate boards, but the sailing club uses the yacht club’s facilities.

The village is enforcing its ordinances to protect residents from property misuse, according to the email. But the yacht club’s leadership said that if it cannot store boats at the club, it will not have members and would close.

At issue this week was a zoning ordinance amendment that increases the fine for code enforcement violations from $25 to $200 per day. It also requires a property owner to prove a nonconforming use of a structure is legal.

The yacht club is concerned the ordinance amendment would leave it in the position of determining if a variation given to it in 1970 by McHenry County was done correctly.

The Village Board tabled discussion and a vote on the ordinance change until its March 5 meeting.

Trustee Josh Hagen asked if the ordinance change prevents complaints against his own property which has nonconforming structures as it was built before 1900. “My plat of survey looks like it was written on a napkin,” Hagen said.

“The ... unintended consequences are difficult for us to get through,” Hagen said, adding he’s concerned the village would pass legal costs on to a property owner if a complaint is made against them.

He also is concerned that, told in the past that an ordinance change was a general update, that change was then immediately used in a resident dispute. “Oversight has gone into overdrive lately,” Hagen said.

The suggested ordinance change, placing the burden of proof on the property owner, is only reflecting what already exists in Illinois case law, said Michael Smoron, village attorney.

Property owners must show why they believe an exception exists, Smoron said.

Trustee Beth Foreman asked if the ordinance could exempt the yacht club until the dispute is worked out, or hold off on a vote.

“I am leaning toward that in the spirit of reconciling the elephant in the room,” Foreman said.