The village of Tinley Park has settled a legal imbroglio over claims the village discriminated against predominantly black low income residents when it stalled approval of a controversial housing project planned for the community’s downtown area – a situation the village blamed in part on its ex-planner.
On Sept. 11, U.S. District Judge Sara L. Ellis said attorneys for the village, the U.S. Department of Justice and former Tinley Park Development Director Amy Connolly had informed her the parties involved in two lawsuits swirling around the matter had “reached a global settlement” and were in the process of finishing the documents needed to cement the deal. Judge Ellis set a hearing on the settlement for Oct. 3.
The judge’s filing comes about three weeks since the Justice Department announced the settlement terms, under which the village would agree to pay $410,000 to settle the legal actions filed against the village by federal prosecutors and which the village filed against Connolly.
Under the settlement, Tinley Park will pay a $50,000 civil penalty to the federal government, and $360,000 to Connolly who prosecutors said in a release had been “placed on leave because of her support” for the controversial housing project.
Alastar McGrath Kozacky Weitzel McGrath
The village also agreed to “a number of actions to guard against further housing discrimination, including training elected officials and individuals involved in the planning process, developing a fair housing policy, and hiring a fair housing compliance officer.”
The litigation had lingered in federal court since 2016, when federal prosecutors filed the civil action against the village and Tinley Park also sued Connolly.
The matter at the heart of the case dates back to early 2015, when a developer identified as Buckeye Community SixtyNine LP submitted plans for a project known as The Reserve to the village. The proposal showed a development including 47 apartments in a three-story building, which the developer told the village 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, led at the time by Connolly, found the project “met all of the specifications of the Legacy Code,” a special community development plan and ordinance adopted in 2009, and, as such, did not require a vote by the village board to secure permits.
After plans for the project became public, opposition arose within the village, and the village board refused to take action on the project. Buckeye then sued, and the village ultimately agreed to pay the developer $2.45 million to settle that case.
However, in 2016, the Justice Department under former President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch asserted the village’s actions violated federal anti-discrimination law, saying prosecutors believed opposition to the project was motivated by racism, as The Reserve was likely to be populated by a relatively large number of African American tenants.
In its civil action, the Justice Department asserted the Tinley Park village board buckled to the allegedly racist opposition to the project and improperly shut down the project.
In the village’s lawsuit, however, Tinley Park officials claimed village board members believed they had been misled by Connolly, asserting the project didn’t actually meet the Legacy Code requirements, because it lacked commercial space on the ground floor.
Connolly was placed on leave by the village, and eventually resigned, taking a similar job with the city of Racine, Wis.
All defendants in both cases were unsuccessful at dismissing the legal actions in 2017, setting the stage for mediation and settlement talks this summer.
“Increasing access to housing, including through affordable housing, is important to the development of our communities,” Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore, who oversees the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a prepared statement. “The Justice Department will continue to enforce federal civil rights laws, and protect against discrimination, including on the basis of race, with respect to access to affordable housing.”
The settlement agreement did not include any provision for a consent decree, which could have subject the village to more rigorous federal supervision of its housing policies and plan approval procedures, among other potential requirements.
In a report published in The Daily Southtown, an attorney for Tinley Park, Alastar McGrath, of the firm of Kozacky Weitzel McGrath, of Chicago, said the village likely sidestepped worse outcomes, as the Justice Department, among other items, had sought to require the village to seek out affordable housing developments to be built in Tinley Park and make village taxpayers subsidize them.
In the Southtown report, McGrath said the settlement likely saved the village potentially millions of dollars more in litigation costs. The Southtown reported Tinley Park has paid more than $2 million in attorney fees and other costs to litigate lawsuits related to The Reserve.
Connolly is represented by attorney John B. Murphey, of the firm of Rosenthal, Murphey, Coblentz & Donahue, of Chicago.