Protect Our Parks (POP) attorney Richard Epstein took on four attorneys for the city, Chicago Park District, Obama Foundation and federal government on July 20 over the nonprofit’s request for a preliminary injunction to block the groundbreaking of the Obama Presidential Center, scheduled for Aug. 16.
Judge Robert Blakey of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois — the same judge who ruled against POP in their first lawsuit seeking to block the OPC’s construction in Jackson Park — did not issue a ruling on Tuesday, recessing the court at the end of arguments.
Blakey asked Epstein if the court’s role was a “de novo” review — a review of the process from the beginning — or whether it should defer to the City Council’s legislative choice of the Jackson Park site and federal reviews of that site. He also asked if it was his role to revisit the merits of an alternative selection, namely locating the OPC in the Washington Park neighborhood, as POP has suggested.
David Gehlert, an attorney representing the federal defendants, said the city looked at alternative locations before deciding on Jackson Park and that the question before the court is whether it has the authority to second-guess a non-federal action.
Fundamentally, Gehlert argued that the OPC is the Obama Foundation’s project being built on city land. “We simply have no obligation to consider alternatives to Jackson Park,” he said.
Blakey did say that the 789 trees that will be removed is a “large” number, but Gehlert said they are far from the lakefront, which he said migratory birds are more likely to use, and that there are thousands more in Jackson Park.
He said the to-be-felled trees will be replanted at a greater-than 1-to-1 ratio, with the plantings bigger than saplings. David Hoffman, the Obama Foundation's attorney, said that 80% of the trees to be taken down are either immature or in bad condition.
Ann Danson Navaro, another lawyer for the city, said Chicago agrees that the federal agencies have taken a hard look with the reviews that any construction-related harms that POP identified would be temporary or speculative.
Epstein, in his rebuttal, said there would be positive neighborhood effects in Washington Park should the OPC be located there, that there would be no bad environmental effects should the OPC be located in Washington Park and argued that the City Council had not taken into account bad repercussions for Indiana motorists who traverse Jackson Park and the roadways through it that will be permanently changed.