Nuns sue over rejected nursing home, brewery plans

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The nuns want to build a nursing home, brewery, winery, gift shop and school on their property
The nuns want to build a nursing home, brewery, winery, gift shop and school on their property

A group of nuns has filed a federal lawsuit aiming to reverse a decision that shot down its plans to build a large development that would include a nursing home and a brewery.

Fraternite Notre Dame, based in Chicago, proposed to build the new development, which would also include a winery, gift shop and boarding school, on the site of their monastery property in McHenry County, IL. The 95-acre property currently contains farmland, a chapel, a bakery and living quarters for nuns, priests and friars.

The McHenry County Board rejected the proposal in September, saying the property was zoned for agricultural use and the new development wouldn't fit with the character of the largely rural area. Some neighbors also raised concerns about students at the proposed school, who would come from the “troubled” Austin neighborhood of Chicago, as well as the development's possible impact 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. The order has faced discrimination in the past, including incidents of vandalism and criticisms that it isn't part of the Roman Catholic Church.

By barring Fraternite Notre Dame, 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.

"It has no bearing legally. … The government must treat them equally," James Geoly, an attorney for the nuns, told the Tribune.