TINLEY PARK, IL. (ECWd) –
BREAKING: Early in the morning on 3/22/16, the Village of Tinley Park was hit with a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court (Chancery Division) alleging multiple counts of wrongdoing centered around the actions of Village Attorney Thomas Melody (Klein Thorpe Jenkins) and Village Planning Director Amy Connolly in allegedly tampering with Tinley Park’s zoning ordinances to specifically allow an out-of-state developer from Ohio to build a low-income housing project that would never have met zoning code without such tampering. We’ve been reporting on this ongoing story since the beginning.
The lawsuit seeks to void all changes made to the “Legacy Code” zoning ordinance by Thomas Melody and Amy Connolly and restore the zoning ordinance to what it looked like before they tampered with it in the fall of 2015.
Here is a summary of the lawsuit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-f6hhF6PUb0
The lawsuit notes that back in 2014 a developer called PIRHL tried to build a senior living center in Tinley Park in the “Legacy District,” which had a “street level commercial required” zoning designation. The Village blocked that development and would not allow it to go forward because PIRHL refused to include street-level commercial space in the project that the Legacy Code zoning ordinance required. The Legacy Code was enacted in 2011 to specifically guarantee that a stretch of Tinley Park known as the “Oak Park Avenue corridor” would receive much-needed commercial development. Since PIRHL’s proposed project did not comply with the “street level commercial required” provisions of the Legacy Code, the project was blocked (as it should have been).
Flash forward to a year later in 2015. The Buckeye Community Hope Foundation, which had been rejected in other communities like New Lenox and Oak Lawn, set its sights on Tinley Park for a low-income housing project riddled with federal tax credit schemes. Buckeye has a checkered and shady past with tax credit and charter school schemes that seem to result in major scandals wherever Buckeye takes root. Documents produced in FOIA production show that Amy Connolly worked closely with Buckeye to “clean up” the zoning code in Tinley Park so that Buckeye’s project could slip through where the senior living center was blocked. Buckeye refused to include the required street level commercial space in what it wanted to build and the lawsuit filed against the Village contends that Connolly and Thomas Melody intentionally tampered with the Legacy Code so that Buckeye could build what it wanted and not be blocked the way the senior living center was blocked in that Oak Park Avenue commercial required corridor.
The lawsuit contends that Connolly never filed the proper notice in the paper that the zoning code was being tampered with, since she never published the accurate text of what the Legacy Code was being changed to when she pushed to have the “street level commercial required” wording removed and replaced ultimately with “street level commercial permitted.” The words “commercial permitted” never appeared in any notice of a zoning code change, which means that change is null and void as both state law and Tinley Park local code require that the exact wording of any text amendment to a zoning code must appear in the newspaper for a proper public hearing on that text change to be valid.
The lawsuit also contends that Thomas Melody from Klein Thorpe Jenkins intentionally deleted text and made improper changes in various documents as he pushed along the text amendment change Buckeye wanted. Both Melody and Connolly were paid handsomely by the Village to work on behalf of the taxpayers of Tinley Park, yet their actions as described in the lawsuit make them seem to be working more for Buckeye’s benefit than for the citizens of Tinley Park.
The additional counts in the lawsuit contend that the Village acted arbitrarily and capriciously in changing the Legacy Code zoning ordinance to remove the “street level commercial required” wording because the whole point of the Legacy Code was to guarantee that commercial development in a stretch of town that desperately needs new businesses and retail. It appears from what is alleged in this lawsuit that two employees, Connolly and Melody, intentionally took actions to tamper with the Legacy Code zoning ordinance to benefit one specific project put forward by Buckeye Community Hope Foundation and that such tampering completely went against the entire point of the Legacy Code to begin with.
Since much time and effort was put into coming up with the Legacy Plan to spur commercial development in Tinley Park, citizens of Tinley Park came together to file this lawsuit because the actions of Connolly, Melody, and the various Village trustees and commissioners who supported and approved their actions robbed homeowners in Tinley Park of their due process rights when it comes to zoning changes. People were counting on the Village to keep the promises it made in the Legacy Plan and to not change zoning codes improperly in shady behind the scenes ways to benefit a development company like Buckeye from out of town (and with a history of disastrous projects that harmed communities).
Check back for future developments in this breaking story and read the Citizens of Tinley Park’s press release on the lawsuit here:
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