As Tinley Park village officials await a federal judge’s ruling on whether a legal question could prevent the U.S. Justice Department from suing Village Hall for housing discrimination, the village’s ex-development director has asked a federal judge to simultaneously consider her request to dismiss a lawsuit Tinley Park brought against her for allegedly making faulty decisions that led the village to come under federal scrutiny and pay $2.45 million to settle claims brought by the would-be developers of a stalled controversial low-income housing project planned for Tinley’s downtown.
On June 20, former Tinley Park Development Director Amy Connolly formally asked U.S. District Judge Sara L. Ellis to accept reassignment of the village’s lawsuit against her.
The village government had filed that suit in early May, asking the court to hold Connolly personally responsible for allegedly misleading other village officials into approving “minor” amendments to a key village planning and zoning document, to allow for the development of the downtown Tinley housing project known as The Reserve.
The legal imbroglio traces back to February 2015, when a developer identified as Buckeye Community SixtyNine LP submitted plans for The Reserve to the village. The proposal showed a development including 47 apartments in a three-story building. The developer told the village the apartments would be marketed to people “making less than 60 percent of area median income,” and “would be financed through the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program.”
Shortly after, the Tinley Park planning department, headed by Connolly at the time, found The Reserve “met all of the specifications of the Legacy Code,” a special community development plan and ordinance enacted in 2009, and, as such, did not require a vote by the village board to secure permits.
In the village’s lawsuit, however, Village Hall alleges Connolly delivered that pronouncement despite knowing the Legacy Cody should have required ground floor commercial space in all projects – a design element Buckeye did not include in its Reserve plan.
Further, the village has alleged Connolly essentially misled the village’s Plan Commission and Village Board into tweaking the Legacy Code to replace the street-level commercial space requirement, with a “street level commercial permitted obligation.” This, the village said, essentially cleared the way for The Reserve, which at no time included plans for ground-floor commercial space.
“Connolly intentionally failed to explain to the Board of Trustees the significance of the Text Amendments,” the village argued. “In fact … Connolly concealed the Street Level Commercial Permitted Amendment, and explained to Vandenberg that the only significant amendment within the Text Amendments dealt with tobacco-based restrictions in the downtown corridor.”
The village specifically alleged Connolly breached her fiduciary duty to the village, as the manager of its planning department.
Connolly later resigned her post after she was placed on leave, and now works in a similar capacity for the city of Racine, Wisc.
In its lawsuit, the village has asked the court to order Connolly to pay at least $75,000, plus punitive damages.
Connolly has denied the allegations, and asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. While that request is currently pending before U.S. DIstrict Judge Elaine Bucklo, Connolly has asked the court to transfer the case to Ellis to allow for the village’s lawsuit against her and the federal government’s action against the village to be processed together, as she said they are both based on the Tinley Park Village Board’s actions related to The Reserve.
After plans for Buckeye’s Reserve project became public, opposition to the proposal arose within the village, and the village board essentially shelved the plan, sending it back to the planning department for further review, where the proposal has remained.
Following that decision, Buckeye sued the village. In April 2017, the village agreed to pay Buckeye $2.45 million to settle the action.
And in late 2016, after the election, but before the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States, the Justice Department under then-President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Lorretta Lynch sued Tinley Park, alleging discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. The federal lawsuit accused village officials of buckling to racism in the community, saying The Reserve was likely to be populated by a relatively large number of African American tenants.
“Community opposition to The Reserve was based on discriminatory attitudes towards African Americans and other groups based on race,” the federal lawsuit said. “Tinley Park responded to the race-based opposition by sending the project back to the Planning Department…
“Through its actions with respect to The Reserve … Tinley Park engaged in a pattern or practice of unlawful discrimination and denied rights to a group of persons on the basis of race and color in violation of the Fair Housing Act.”
Tinley Park has asked the court to dismiss the federal action, alleging it was improperly filed by the Justice Department.
Judge Ellis is expected to rule on the village’s dismissal request in mid-July.
The village is represented in the actions by attorneys with the firm of Kozacky Weitzel McGrath P.C., of Chicago.
Connolly is represented by attorney John B. Murphey, of the firm of Rosenthal, Murphey, Coblentz & Donahue, of Chicago.