by Ben Joravsky
The revelations keep coming in the lawsuit to keep the Latin School from building a soccer field in Lincoln Park.
North-side residents have formed a group called the Committee to Keep Lincoln Park Public and are suing the city, the Park District, and Latin, asking Judge Dorothy Kirie Kinnaird to issue a restraining order to block further construction, in part because the field was never approved by the Chicago Plan Commission, as required by the city's lakefront protection ordinance. The field's already about 60 percent completed.
Last Friday, during day one of the proceedings, it was revealed that no one had even acquired a building permit for the project. A lawyer for the city claimed that the Park District and Latin didn't need one to build a large Astroturf field with bleachers, a scoreboard, and drainage pipes. Of course, a back porch would be another matter.
Yesterday Judge Kinnaird expressed disbelief at the city's seeming reluctance to enforce its own lakefront protection laws. "I've never known the city of Chicago to be shy," she said. "If somebody out there is doing something they shouldn't be doing, you guys are usually in court."
So another lawyer for the city stepped in to explain why the lakefront protection ordinance--which is intended to do exactly what its name says--doesn't apply to the soccer field, never mind that it's on public parkland right across from the lake.
The city's answer this time? The "complicated" lakefront protection ordinance doesn't apply to the soccer field because the law covers construction, and the soccer field is an excavation.
Well, I'm no lawyer, but the language in the ordinance doesn't look so complicated to me. "The Chicago Plan Commission shall be the agency responsible for the administration of the Lake Michigan and Chicago Lakefront Protection Ordinance and shall . . . receive from any applicant or public agency an application . . . to undertake any landfill, excavation, impoundment, mining, drilling, roadway building or construction."
Maybe Park District attorneys just need a little refresher course. But I think there's a more plausible explanation for why the city bypassed the plan commission in approving the deal. By law, the commission has to send notification letters to property owners within 250 feet of any proposed lakefront construction project. Back in 2002, when Latin first proposed a similar deal, high-rise dwellers around the park erupted at the prospect of handing over public land to a private school. Had they been notified this time around, they would have undoubtedly raised holy hell--and this time they would have had more leverage. In October 2006, when the Park District signed off on the soccer field, alderman Vi Daley was in the midst of a heated reelection battle. Public outcry about the project would have forced her to take a stand. (As it was, she claimed the deal was sealed without her knowledge.) By ignoring the plan commission, the Park District avoided stirring up the kind of opposition that killed the last Latin School soccer field and might have killed this one. All in all, a pretty slick move.
But wait, there's more. As yesterday's hearing wound down, a lawyer for the Park District asked Judge Kinnaird to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that only the city has the right to block projects that violate the lakefront protection ordinance.
Let's get this straight: the city's the only entity that can keep the city from breaking the law? Follow this argument to its logical conclusion and the Park District should call the Children's Museum an excavation -- most of it will be underground, right? -- and bring the bulldozers into Grant Park next week. Who's to stop them if citizens can't rightfully sue?
Judge Kinnaird will rule on the residents' request for a temporary restraining order on Friday. See you in court.