• Alex Nitkin
    SEP 16, 2019

    Judge dismisses lawsuit to block Lincoln Yards TIF, says groups lack standing  

    A rendering of the proposed Lincoln Yards. [Department of Planning and Development]

    A judge on Monday dismissed a lawsuit aiming to block the $1.4 billion subsidy the city approved for the massive Lincoln Yards development, dealing a setback to groups looking to prevent the controversial 23-year financing agreement from taking effect.

    The groups Grassroots Collaborative and Raise Your Hand had alleged in their April complaint that the city approved the Cortland/Chicago River tax increment financing district in a “racially and ethnically discriminatory manner” because it dedicated public resources to an already-wealthy part of the city.

    Now, the allegation will not be considered at trial, and the groups cannot refile their complaint.

    In an opinion issued Monday, Judge Neil Cohen wrote that the plaintiffs did not demonstrate that they’ve been directly harmed by the city’s actions. Under state law, anyone looking to bring a lawsuit to trial must first show that they’ve suffered a “distinct and palpable injury” at the hands of the defendant.

    The facts laid out in the original complaint “clearly show that Plaintiffs have no standing to bring suit against the city,” as they did not allege a “legally cognizable interest fairly traceable to the City," Cohen wrote.

    Cohen dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, meaning that a different group of plaintiffs may come back with a similar suit.

    A spokesperson for the plaintiff coalition wrote in a statement Monday that she was “disappointed” in the decision, adding that the groups will “continue to explore all legal options to end TIF abuse in Chicago.”

    “The judge’s decision...did not address the substantive merits of our challenge to Chicago’s discriminatory and illegal administration of Tax Increment Financing (TIF),” according to the statement from Timna Axel of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. “The $1.3 billion mega-TIF for Lincoln Yards exemplifies how our broken TIF system steers public funds away from families in under-resourced communities, particularly hurting people of color who are disproportionately impacted by inequitable funding.”

    The decision will not stop Grassroots Collaborative's "decades-long fight to end the racist abuse of the TIF program," according to a statement from Amisha Patel, the group's executive director.

    "We are going to continue to pursue both our legal and legislative options to stop the abuse of the program," Patel wrote. "We hope that the Lightfoot administration will join with us in the push for TIF reform instead of fighting us."

    But even if the suit had made it to trial, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2) said he was confident the plaintiffs would not have been able to prove that the Lincoln Yards area was an inappropriate use of TIF funds.

    "If I were a lawyer associated with filing this lawsuit, I would have been embarrassed by the fundamental misunderstanding of the law represented by this lawsuit," Hopkins told The Daily Line. "The judge did the right thing."

    Hopkins, a vocal supporter of the TIF district whose ward includes the entire Lincoln Yards project site, said the $6 billion project by development firm Sterling Bay "is already moving forward," and that it "wasn't even slowed down by this lawsuit."

    Construction is set to begin next year on a new river bridge inside the district, Hopkins added.

    Sterling Bay spokesperson Julie Goudie also celebrated the decision on Monday, writing in a statement that the company "continues to believe that the City’s decision-making and enactment of the Cortland-Chicago River TIF district fully complied with all applicable laws."

    "The Cortland-Chicago River TIF will...benefit all Chicagoans by helping make [Lincoln Yards] possible through, among other things, the construction of three new bridges over the North Branch of the Chicago River, a reconfigured Elston/Armitage/Ashland intersection, and new streets to provide access to this long-dormant part of the city," Goudie said.

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