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Lake restaurant issue going to court

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City to ask for court ruling on zoning; council will take public vote Monday

By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

The city of Vandalia decided on Monday to have a judge decide whether a couple can legally operate a restaurant on Vandalia Lake.
Now, the city council will meet in special session to make sure that decision is legal.
After the council met in closed session for more than 30 minutes to discuss several issues, Mayor Rick Gottman had Don Sheafor of the city’s legal counsel report the council’s decision regarding the controversy over Steve “Luke” and Latisha Mabry’s plan for a restaurant on the city lake.
Sheafor, who is a partner in the law firm of Burnside, Johnston and Sheafor, said the city will seek a declaratory judgment, asking the court to decide “whether or not it (the Mabrys' restaurant property) is subject to the zoning ordinance.”
The city contends that the property is zoned single-family residential due to an ordinance amendment approved in 1988.
City Attorney Jack Johnston said at a council meeting in May that the person owning the property in the late 1980s wanted an additional boat dock, and agreed to subject that property to residential zoning in exchange.
Johnston said it is his opinion that that agreement is still in effect.
The Mabrys, however, claim that the zoning agreement is no longer in effect, because there is no dock at the property, and that they do not intend to have one. They are being represented in the issue by Fairview Heights attorney Jay Dowling.
At the June 3 meeting, the council decided during closed session to direct its legal counsel to send a “cease and desist” letter to the Mabrys.
Gottman said that the letter was sent the next day.
On Tuesday, believing that the council should have voted in open session to both send the letter and ask the court for a declaratory judgment, The Leader-Union sought a legal opinion.
Prior to announcing its plans to seek a declaratory judgment, the council did vote to hire outside legal assistance to represent the city in a lawsuit in which the city and its legal counsel are both named as defendants.
Don Craven, a Springfield attorney who represents Illinois Press Association newspapers, concurred with The Leader-Union’s belief, saying that according to the Illinois Open Meetings Act, the council needs to have a public vote anytime it wants to direct its legal counsel to take legal action.
The Leader-Union informed Gottman of its belief on Tuesday afternoon, and Gottman contacted Sheafor, who agreed that the city should vote on the declaratory judgment issue in open session to ensure that the council’s action is legal.
The council is tentatively scheduled to hold a brief special session at 5:30 p.m. on Monday for a public vote on that issue.