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Bye, Felicia: Judge dismisses NIMBY lawsuit against Logan affordable TOD

Logan Square Neighbors for Responsible Development members and supporters libertarian lawyer Jacob Huebert, real estate agent Sarah Maxwell, and trial attorney Allison Huebert testified at the final community meeting on the all-affordable TOD in April 2019. Maxwell was named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Photo: John Greenfield

Last month the Chicago City Council gave final approval to the funding plan for the 100-unit all-affordable transit-oriented development slated on the site of a city-owned parking lot next to the Logan Square 'L' station. The $40.1 million, seven-story development is a strategy to help low-income and working-class residents remain in the swiftly gentrifying neighborhood, while providing excellent access to public transportation that would help the tenants access education and job opportunities.

There was one final hurdle to this forward-thinking project becoming reality. In February the Not In My Back Yard-style opposition group Logan Square Neighbors for Responsible Development, whose members and supporters include landlords, real estate agents, architects, and a star anti-union libertarian lawyer, filed a nuisance lawsuit arguing that the building was too tall and would cause a parking crunch and traffic jams. “By eliminating the only public parking in the area and replacing it with 100 apartments…the Project will choke off those residents, businesses, employees and visitors as people will no longer have a place to park and traffic will be a nightmare," stated the lawsuit against nonprofit developer Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation.

The plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are mostly white and/or affluent folks who live across from the lot on Emmett Street or nearby. One of them is landlord Mark Fishman, who owns many properties in the area and is a longtime adversary of local alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, the project’s main champion.

Rendering of the proposed Logan Square affordable transit-oriented development.
Rendering of the proposed Logan Square affordable transit-oriented development.
Rendering of the proposed Logan Square affordable transit-oriented development.

In April the Metropolitan Planning Council, which years ago helped collect community input on what should be built on the lot, released a data-driven study that found that the NIMBYs' arguments about parking and traffic are “not supported by facts or data.” Report author Daniel Cooper, director of research for MPC, argued that the lawsuit was "another example of a kitchen sink attempt to block affordable housing by any means necessary."

The lawsuit's argument that the 7-story affordable TOD would represent “density, height and bulk that is unprecedented and inappropriate for the neighborhood, which causes hardship on Plaintiffs and nearby residents, and the public as a whole" was also specious. There are several buildings of comparable or greater height in the area, such as the historic red-brick 7-story building on the west side of the Logan Square traffic circle; the massive, 5-story Logan’s Crossing development; the 6-story Nocablu TOD; and and the 11- and 12-story MiCa Towers.

In late April Bickerdike filed a motion to dismiss the frivolous lawsuit, and today Cook County Circuit judge Neil H. Cohen ruled that the complaint lacked standing and dismissed it. Here's an excerpt from his decision.

The provision of affordable housing for low and moderate income residents of the City is a legitimate government interest. The Planned Development is rationally related to that legitimate governmental interest. Increasing access to public transportation and encouraging public transportation use for people of all incomes is also a legitimate governmental interest. Building 100 affordable housing units near the CTA's Logan Square Blue Line station is rationally related to these legitimate governmental interests. Because this court can conceive of a rational basis for the PD Ordinance, the PD Ordinance must be upheld.

Bickerdike, which is hoping to close on the property by the end of the summer, is celebrating this latest victory. "Our belief in the importance of bringing 100 affordable units to the heart of Logan Square has never wavered," the nonprofit said in a statement. "We’re happy to have cleared this obstacle and will be working full steam ahead to get the financing on this project closed, and the construction started immediately following,”

While Cohen stated that his decision is appealable, hopefully Logan Square Neighbors for Responsible Development won't go that route. It's time for the Emmett Street residents to cut their losses, rethink their selfish behavior, and allow this smart, equitable project to move forward without further resistance. As Bob Dylan sang:

Your old road is rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'

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