Lawsuit Update (December 2014)

Appeal Paperwork Complete. Here is an update from plaintiff Michael Scott:

The McMobil situation has been out of the news for a while, so I am sending out this update. Briefly, our fight is not at all over! The university seems unwilling to consider any changes to their plan and says they will push forward with development, but all construction has been on hold for the last year and we expect it will not move forward until the lawsuit is resolved. We continue to believe that this is the wrong building for the site, we are disappointed that the university seems willing to sink such an enormous amount of money into fighting for the current plan (money which could easily go towards a more reasonable building), and we are pleased with how the lawsuit is progressing so far.

The lawsuit is still in the appeals process. We filed our final response brief on Oct. 20, arguing that the judge erred in dismissing the case on a technicality. The appellate court may ask for oral arguments, but more likely will not, and we expect a ruling in the next six months to a year. We expect to prevail when that ruling is handed down; if we do, the merits of the case can finally be heard (the main issue being whether a zoning change from a maximum height of 50 feet to a planned development 165 feet tall is allowable under Illinois law — we think not).

In the meantime, the university’s Associate VP for Real Estate Jim Hennessy has been quoted in Crain’s as saying that the housing market in Hyde Park is “too soft” to support the second phase of the Harper Court development, a residential tower comparable in overall size to the proposed Vue53 development. It does not seem that the university will be obligated to build that second phase when they took $23 million in TIF subsidies for the first phase. Neither do we know what the Vue53 developer (Mesa Development) thinks of the risk they are taking building residential and retail space in this soft market.

We can only speculate as to why the university, which so clearly seems to want to move this project forward, is so completely unwilling to consider any changes to the project. It is hard to imagine that it is cost-effective for them compared to sitting down with us and negotiating in good faith. Delays and lawyers are both costly for them.

Our legal bills are a tiny fraction of the university’s, but we do have legal expenses, and I am appealing to you now to offer new or renewed financial support to this cause. We are raising money now to pay the final bills for the appeals stage and to begin to amass reserves for the anticipated trial stage. We are deeply appreciative of all who have given in the past, and of all who will give in the future. Any amount helps! Donations can be made online (just click the Donate button) and checks made out to “53rd CARRD” can be sent to:

53rd CARRD
1507 E. 53rd St., #212
Chicago, IL 60615-4573

Thanks for your attention and support!

Best regards,

Michael Scott

Lawsuit Update (October 2014)

Appeal Ongoing: Our case continues to make progress through the courts. We filed our appeal brief in July. At this point we are still waiting for responses to our brief, after which our lawyers will prepare and file a reply. Even though Judge Pantle did not rule on the City’s motion to dismiss our case — the City essentially claimed that no one except the property owner has standing to object to a zoning change — the City requested to file a response in the appeal. We will also get to reply to the City’s response as well as to the one filed by the university’s lawyers.

Once our reply is filed, the appeals court will take the case under consideration. They may or may not ask for oral arguments, and eventually they will rule on whether or not we can take the case to trial. We cannot estimate how long this will take, but it would be expected to be several months at least.

We are still prepared to discuss the scale of this project with the university, but we are also prepared to continue the appeal, and the trial, if that is our only option to pursue a more reasonable building on the McMobil site. We find it interesting that Jim Hennesy is quoted in Crain’s Chicago Business as saying that the second, residential, phase of the nearby Harper Court development, which was supported by $20 million in TIF subsidies, “may never get built” because he believes “the market is too soft” to support that much housing.

As always, we welcome your support!

Lawsuit Appeal Filed (July 2014)

Appeal Filed: On July 17, 2014 our lawyers filed a brief appealing Judge Pantle’s ruling. Click here to view the press release.

Lawsuit to be Appealed (February 2014)

Judge’s Ruling to be Appealed: On January 27 the judge hearing the McMobil zoning case, Kathleen M. Pantle, granted a motion filed by the University of Chicago’s lawyers to dismiss the lawsuit challenging the rezoning. The motion alleged that the title company hired to mail required notices miscalculated the property boundaries and thus failed to notify seven property owners on the east side of Dorchester Avenue. We are disappointed by the judge’s ruling. There is no precedent in case law for dismissal of a zoning suit on the basis of alleged procedural errors by a party making a good faith effort to give notice, though suits have been dismissed when no notices whatsoever were sent. We intend to pursue all legal avenues available to us to appeal this decision.

We would like to thank the many supporters who have backed us, and also to remind everyone that we are moving ahead vigorously with this effort. We continue to believe that the proposed development at the McMobil site is grossly out of scale with the surrounding area, that the university’s agenda in developing that site is out of sync with the desires of the neighborhood, and that the university has so far avoided a meaningful discussion of this issue. Indeed, the whole reason for the lawsuit has been that the university has consistently ignored community input.

Our position has always been in favor of development at the McMobil site, but we want the right building for that site, and this is the wrong one. The judge’s procedural ruling does not lessen our commitment to work towards a 53rd Street that will be best for the future of Hyde Park. The community and the UofC are not identical. What the UofC thinks best isn’t necessarily good for the community.

If the judge had allowed the case to go forward, we would now be preparing to have a conversation in court about the scale of this project, a conversation that should have taken place long ago. Now any discussion in the courtroom of the merits of the case will be delayed for some time, perhaps a year or more, while the appeals process unfolds. We remain prepared to have this conversation, and at the same time we recognize that the lawsuit remains our only leverage to force that discussion. Our efforts so far have been fueled by the moral and financial support of many Hyde Parkers who share our concerns, and our future success will be built upon continued support from the neighborhood. The fight for the future of 53rd Street continues – join us!

Hyde Parkers Sue to Overturn McMobil Rezoning (September 2013)

The Lawsuit: An ad hoc group of Hyde Park residents announced that it has filed suit against the City of Chicago to overturn the recent rezoning of the McMobil site on East 53rd Street in their Chicago neighborhood. The suit, filed with the Circuit Court of Cook County, alleges that the city acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner in rezoning the site to allow for the construction of a 13-story high-rise building. Click here to view the press release.

Background:  Mesa Development, supported by the property owner the University of Chicago, proposes to build a 13-story building on the so-called McMobil lot, currently the  former site of the Mobil gas station and gravel parking lot to its east on 53rd St between Kenwood and Kimbark.  To do this, they requested a two-step zoning change to a “planned development,” as the original zoning as of spring 2013 would not have allowed for such a large building.  This zoning change was supported by Alderman Burns, who notably did not communicate with neighbors of the project, and was passed by the City Council on June 5, 2013.  The name of the new development is Vue53.

Our Position:  We are a group of Hyde Park residents who believe that the size of the development is grossly out of scale with the current streetscape on this portion of 53rd Street.  Most of us are in favor of a new building on the McMobil lot and support many of the goals of the development, but want a structure more in scale with existing uses.  We believe that the University has attempted to paint opposition to Vue53 as anti-development and anti-change.  This is false. The University and the developer have not attempted to meet with people in the community who oppose the scale of the project because they want to make it as large as possible.  If Vue53 is built at its proposed scale it will become easier to get approval for other massive buildings on 53rd St., for example at the SE and NE corners of 53rd and Dorchester.

The Law:  While the custom in Chicago is that an alderman may make unilateral changes in zoning such as was done here, Illinois law provides a basis for challenging “arbitrary and capricious” changes under the LaSalle factors, so named for a precedent-setting case.  The first factor is the existing uses and zoning of nearby properties; also considered is the benefit to the community at large weighed against the hardship to individual owners (though in our case it is the detriment to the community weighed against the benefit to the developer).