Scorned nuns brew up a NIMBY lawsuit

Even nuns are not safe from being victims of the “not in my backyard” syndrome.

A group of them filed a federal lawsuit in December, hoping to reverse a decision that shot down plans for a broad development that includes a nursing home and a brewery.

Chicago-based Fraternite Notre Dame also would include a winery, gift shop and boarding school, on the site of their monastery property in McHenry County, IL. 

The 95-acre parcel currently is zoned for agricultural use and contains farmland, a chapel, a bakery and living quarters for nuns, priests and friars.

The McHenry County Board rejected the proposal 20-3 in September, saying, in part, that the new development wouldn't fit with the character of the largely rural tract in far northwest of Chicago. 

Some neighbors also raised concerns about students at the proposed school, who could come from the “troubled” Austin neighborhood of Chicago, which predominantly has African-American residents. The neighbors, predominantly white, also expressed concern about possible negative impacts on property values, the Chicago Tribune reported. 

“Nobody's against religion, for God's sake,” Kristin Ottolino, an opponent of the nuns' proposal, told the Tribune. “They should have gotten this approved before they bought the land, or they should have bought land in an industrial area.”

The lawsuit alleges the order was discriminated against as a religious institution when its proposal was rejected. Attorneys for the nuns argue that similar developments — including a nursing home, three schools and two church wineries — have been allowed in McHenry County. 

By barring Fraternite Notre Dame's efforts, the lawsuit claims, the county violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution, the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.