Friday, April 25, 2008

Stop that bulldozer

Posted By on 04.25.08 at 07:14 PM

All week cynics were telling me there was no way the residents would win round one of their case against the Latin School soccer field in Lincoln Park.

On one side, you had a collection of cloutless north-siders worried about coming up with the money to pay their lawyers.

On the other, you had the Park District and the city, with almost unlimited access to taxpayer dollars, and Latin, one of the wealthiest private schools in town. 

Plus Mayor Daley wants the field and, as we all know, the mayor generally gets what he wants around here. The case, of course, is being held in the Daley Center, and as more than one lawyer has jokingly told me: "They don't call it the Daley Center for nothing."

Well, Cook County circuit judge Dorothy Kirie Kinnaird stunned us all this afternoon.

She didn't give the residents the complete victory they wanted, but she came pretty close.

Ruling that the residents made a persuasive argument that the field could only be built with approval from the Chicago Plan Commission, she prohibited Latin or the Park District from installing "lighting, permanent or fixed goal posts, permanent or removable bleachers or signage." Furthermore, the scoreboard, which has already been installed, "may not be lit, connected to lighting, or otherwise used."

In addition, Judge Kinnaird temporarily nullified the contract the Park District has signed with Latin--the one giving the school exclusive prime-time use of the field.

She did, however, allow Latin and the Park District to finishing installing the artificial turf.

The residents wanted Judge Kinnaird to halt all further work on the field. But after the judge read her ruling, they were feeling pretty good with what they got. I for one hope their lawyers get to start grilling Park District, Latin, and city officials under oath for the inside story on this deal.

Judge Kinnaird's restraining order will be in effect until at least May 20; during that time the residents will gather evidence to ask the judge to make her ruling permanent. In contrast, Park District and Latin lawyers said they will probably appeal to have the temporary restraining order lifted. Other than that, they'll be reviewing their options.

And what are those options? Well, Latin has to decide whether it wants to press on with construction if there's a probability a judge will void their contract. After all, what's the point of them spending up to $2 million to build a field if they don't get exclusive rights to use it?

And the Park District has to decide if it wants to waste even more taxpayers dollars installing a field that some court may eventually force them to pay for--or remove.

At Wednesday's hearing, Latin's lawyer argued that the Park District has to cover all construction and removal costs if a judge orders the field removed. Latin says it's going to cost $2 million to install the field. Lord knows how much it would cost to take it out. If the Latin contract gets nixed, then the school may have to chase after the Park District to get its money back. In other words, more lawyers, more litigation--any way you look at it, the taxpayers get screwed.

Of course, all of this could have been averted had Park District officials gone to the Plan Commission for approval of the field, as the law clearly states they should. Then again, if they had, residential and aldermanic opposition might have killed the deal. So they tried to sneak it through.

I guess the judge's ruling means that even in Chicago you're occasionally supposed to play by the rules.  

 

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