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Jenner & Block recently persuaded an appellate court to uphold the right of the Winnetka Historical Society to open a museum in a residential neighborhood. For over four years, local residents had tried to block the special use permit and zoning variance authorizing the museum’s opening.
The museum site, designated by the Village of Winnetka Council as a historical landmark, is a Gothic Revival home built in 1859 that was owned by one of the Village’s founding families. The Historical Society purchased the house in 2001 with plans to preserve, restore and expand the space for museum operations and storage of historical artifacts. After months of hearings involving local homeowners and various Winnetka boards, those plans were approved in 2001 and the Council granted the required special use permit and zoning variance.
A group of homeowners in the museum’s neighborhood then sued both the Village and the Historical Society in the Circuit Court of Cook County, alleging that the Village exceeded its authority when it approved the permit and variance.
The trial judge ruled in 2004 that the Village Council had acted fairly and properly in reviewing and approving the use of the property. In July 2005, the homeowners appealed the circuit court’s decision to the Illinois Appellate Court.
Associate Daniel J. Weiss, with the assistance of Partner Barry Levenstam and Of Counsel Benjamin K. Miller, represented the Historical Society on a pro bono basis. Kathy Janega, Village Attorney of Winnetka, also served as co-counsel on the appeal.