Protect Our Parks — now suing the city, federal agencies, the Chicago Park District and the Obama Foundation to block construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park in favor of a site of their choosing in Washington Park — is asking the federal district court to block planned roadwork on Hayes Drive and excavation on the planned OPC campus site.
The move comes after the city, Park District and Obama Foundation filed a motion to dismiss the state law claims in the Protect Our Parks case, invoking the multitude of other buildings devoted to public use in Jackson Park, state and city approval of the plans and an OK by federal district and appeals courts, which ruled against POP when last it sued to block construction of the OPC in Woodlawn.
The defendants acknowledged that POP's new lawsuit is different than its first: at the heart of it is the claim that the federal agencies that authorized construction of the OPC in Jackson Park did not do their due diligence when faced with the option of building the presidential center in Washington Park, which had been another site under consideration.
The defendants say in their motion that POP's objections to the federal authorities' decisions can be addressed "in due course after submission of the federal administrative record," a process laid out under federal law.
"But the rest of this lawsuit is not new," they write, further observing that two levels of federal courts have ruled against the previous POP lawsuit. Defendants say that the other arguments in the case — a public trust argument, takings and due process claims, the claim that the Jackson Park transfer site to the city was beyond the authority of the Park District and more — rehash or repeat the same from the first case and are ripe for dismissal.
POP, meanwhile, said in its motion for a preliminary injunction that roadwork on Hayes Drive may begin in mid-August and that tree removal is to occur due to OPC construction after Sept. 1.
They argue that groundbreaking will cause them permanent and irreparable harm and ask the court to halt construction "that would alter the environmental, architectural and historic elements of Jackson Park until the matters set forth in plaintiffs’ complaint are heard on the merits."
On a June 16 press call, attorney Michael Rachlis said that work on Hayes Drive would ultimately impact parkland and trees.
Richard Epstein, POP's other attorney, gave the gist of the second case's argument: "The city has not addressed candidly the requirement that all three of these statutes face, namely that what you must do is to show that there is no feasible and pruning alternatives, outside of the particular area, which will allow you to avoid the particular harm in question."
He said POP has determined a 10-acre site west of Washington Park would be "superior in every relevant respect" to the 19-acre Jackson Park site the Obama Foundation chose.
He compared the choice of the site to Union Station, where major tunnels beneath rivers cannot be moved, but said in this case there is not a single shred of evidence that anything has to be done in Jackson Park.
"They can easily move it, they have refused to talk about it,” Epstein said.
Reached for comment about POP’s motion, an Obama Foundation spokesperson responded, "It is estimated that the Obama Presidential Center will generate $3.1 billion in economic impact and our focus this summer in our road to groundbreaking is to do the work necessary to ensure financial benefits from the Obama Presidential Center flow to the surrounding community.
“This includes a construction workforce initiative across the South and West sides, economic development work with Emerald South to strengthen community wealth and our engagement with small businesses across the area to help them prepare and directly benefit from the anticipated 700,000 visitors each year.
“We know the community is eager for investment to come to the area, and we are proud to be able to do just that."
Herald editor Christian Belanger contributed.