Tinley Park, IL. (ECWd) -
Residents of the Village of Tinley Park (a suburb southwest of Chicago) are up in arms and are revolting against the Village Board for attempting to sneak in a low income housing project into the community that angry homeowners believe will tank their property values. The issue here is that people feel the Trustees violated the public’s trust and that collusion and shenanigans were engaged in by Village employees to change the development code to set the stage for a housing project that area residents feel will not benefit their community.
The Village Trustees are being accused of allowing the Planning Director, Amy Connolly, to sneak through a change in the downtown zoning that opened the door for the low income housing project to be pushed through without a proper vote of approval by the Board on whether the community wanted or needed this project. At a lengthy 2/2/16 Village Board meeting (videos below), it was revealed that this change in zoning was hidden in a larger Village vote to forbid hookah and other unsavory businesses from opening up in Tinley Park’s downtown “Legacy District.” Village Trustees claimed at the meeting that they did not know what they were voting for when they voted to approve the zoning change because they thought at the time that the only thing they were voting on was preventing the hookah shops from being allowed to open in Tinley Park.
Three board members expressed anger at being deceived by the zoning change, which one Trustee said took away his vote and his ability to speak for the public in this matter.
The Legacy District is a part of town that Tinley Park has wanted to develop for over a decade, with the original intent to create a dense area of three or four story buildings with street level commercial retail (including high end shops, restaurants, and upscale businesses) and condos on the upper floors that would generate property taxes for the Village on the upper floors. Part of the Legacy District is a parcel of land called “The Reserve,” which was a centerpiece of the property the Village wanted to develop into an upscale pedestrian friendly area to attract vibrant development.
According to speakers at the 2/2/16 meeting, a series of boneheaded moves by Amy Connolly and others involved with the Planning Commission led to the opening of undesirable retailers like the Dollar Store instead of sticking to the higher-end plan for commercial development. Once the Dollar Store and its ilk opened, higher-end stores balked at opening up in the Legacy District, which retailers and developers then started to view as an undesirable area because of the proximity to the Dollar Store. Businesses that would have opened up in Tinley Park instead bought land and built in Orland Park, leaving Tinley Park pretty much screwed. Apparently, retailers do surveys of all the businesses in an area and a Dollar Store is a giant red flag for better retailers not to come to that area because a Dollar Store indicates an area is not desirable for the kind of businesses that end up paying lucrative commercial taxes like in better-planned communities.
The Legacy District plan has been a disaster for Tinley Park, according to angry residents who spoke out this week en masse. It is based on the “Legacy Code,” which was a scheme the Village Planning Commission came up with that spelled out the various zoning requirements for building commercial/residential mixed use buildings around a fancy roundabout (like they have in Europe) that would have formed a new heart for Tinley Park’s downtown. The Legacy Code was meant to be a fast tracking process where someone interested in building in the Legacy District could bypass board votes and just pick up the Legacy Code book and quickly build what they wanted, as long as it strictly met the code. At the time, the Village Board and Planning Commission told area homeowners this was a smart thing to do, because making building as easy as possible in the Legacy District would (they claimed) encourage retailers and developers to come to Tinley Park instead of going to places like Orland Park or New Lenox.
Recently, the Village Board gutted the Legacy Code by voting against going forward with the roundabout…which caused the whole plan to develop the plot of land known as “The Reserve” to go into flux. For all intents and purposes, the Village has seemingly abandoned the Legacy District concept and is now just letting any old thing be built, forgetting about its promise to homeowners to create an upscale area that would attract commercial tax revenue.
An opportunistic (and many may say shady) company in Ohio called Buckeye Community Hope Foundation saw a chance to slip in and take over “The Reserve” and evade the Legacy Code requirements for upscale ground floor retail with nice homes above that. Instead, Buckeye wants to build low income housing projects with no ground floor commercial retailers. Buckeye claims its rental office and its laundry facilities (which would be on the first floor and have coin operated machines for housing project tenants) would be the only retail they would build. This is not what Tinley Park residents were told would be coming to “The Reserve” plot of land or the Legacy District.
Tinley Park residents didn’t realize that changes to the Legacy Code were slipped into the anti-hookah zoning vote in March 2015 and that Buckeye now (coincidentally enough) had the green light to build the low income housing projects in what was supposed to be a fancy, upscale new part of Tinley Park that would compete with Orland Park for lucrative commercial development. The community only became aware of what was going on when the Chicago Tribune casually mentioned something about Buckeye a week or so ago.
And that’s when the sheep hit the fan and all hell broke loose.
In just a few days, angry residents of Tinley Park had formed a Facebook group called “Citizens of Tinley Park,” which exploded to 3,000+ members in record time. See: https://www.facebook.com/groups/196478400706914/202208036800617/?notif_t=group_activity
On 2/2/16, the Village held its board meeting and angry Tinley homeowners packed the meeting to the rafters (causing the Village to have to setup several overflow areas and also for the first time ever film and stream a board meeting). The Village stationed police officers all around the meeting room in what appeared to be a the typical form of intimidation of residents, which we have seen with other public bodies. The Board did not like having so many people appear for a meeting and bristled under the scrutiny.
The Buckeye developer appeared to drop threats if the Village didn’t give them what it wanted and allow the low income housing project to go through. It turns out that this same developer was involved in lawsuits in Ohio when communities fought against property value lowering housing projects that Buckeye blighted their areas with. Many Tinley residents got the impression that Buckeye is a like a swarm of locusts that moves from one place to another causing property values to drop with its housing projects…and Buckeye now has Tinley Park in its sights. The Buckeye developer was caustic, brittle, and inflammatory: one of the first things out of his mouth was an accusation that Tinley Park residents just didn’t want low income families to move into the area. This felt like dog whistles and code words calling Tinley residents bigots when in actuality the community is upset about the duplicitous way in which the Village of Tinley Park made the zoning change that has opened the door for Buckeye to build the low income housing projects in the Legacy District without the previously required commercial first floor retailers.
If Planning Director Amy Connolly had not pushed through this zoning change in March of 2015, it seems that Buckeye would never have been able to build the low income housing projects it wants to build. In what cannot possibly be a coincidence, Buckeye started the paperwork to build the housing projects a month or two after Connolly secured the change to the Legacy District zoning. Many angry residents asked angrily what Connolly is getting out of this deal and why she hid the zoning change in a larger Board vote that Board members thought was just about preventing hookah shops from opening up in the Legacy District. This feels a lot like how business is done in Washington, where riders and amendments are tacked onto unrelated legislation in the hope of sneaking them through in a defense spending bill or the like.
Angry residents wondered aloud if there was collusion between Amy Connolly, the Village Planning Commission, and Buckeye to change the Legacy Code zoning ordinances in a sneaky way (so that the public would not notice) to set the stage for Buckeye to then swoop in with this project. Buckeye then seems to have planned ahead of time to accuse anyone who opposes the project of being a bigot who doesn’t want low-income families moving into Tinley (and then threaten a lawsuit if the developer doesn’t get its way).
What’s not said is that Tinley Park already has a glut of apartments available that are aimed at low income families. Tinley Park has a surfeit of affordable housing. According to figures released at the Board meeting, 37% of the housing in Tinley falls into the low income range. A realtor came forward during the meeting and said that Tinley Park already has far too many rental units and this makes it hard to sell a home in Tinley, as buyers do not want to live in areas that have too many rental units. Homeowners in suburban areas do not want to buy property next to rental units. Many Tinley residents who have been trying to sell their homes for years have given up and turned them into rental condos or rental homes. This has only added to the problems. According to angry homeowners at the Board Meeting, the last thing Tinley Park needs is more rental units.
The Buckeye developer also had to admit at one point that the rents he intends to charge for the low income housing units he wants to build would be higher than rents in apartments that already exist in Tinley and are empty. So, wrap your head around that. The low income housing project would charge higher rents than existing open apartments in the area. So, how can Buckeye claim there is a community need for new low income housing when Tinley Park property owners already have too many rental units available (and at lower prices than what Buckeye would rent its units for)?
Something sure is fishy here. Tinley Park residents demand answers to several questions:
• What was the timeline for when Amy Connolly and the Planning Commission decided to sneak through that zoning change which ultimately benefitted Buckeye’s low income housing project?
• Who is going to make a big profit from low income housing being built in an area that was supposed to be upscale instead of the commercial/residential mix that the Village originally intended for the Legacy District?
• Why is Buckeye (an Ohio company with a checkered past when it comes to angering communities with its housing projects) targeting Tinley Park in Illinois?
• This current project is one of seven or more low income housing projects that Buckeye apparently envisions wanting to build in Tinley Park…but who decided that this is the direction the Village of Tinley Park should go?
• How much damage will this do to property values in an already oversaturated market in Tinley Park where residents have trouble selling their homes and realtors say there are already far too many rental units?
The scandal involving the Legacy Code Zoning Change and the Buckeye Low Income Housing Projects is compelling viewing, especially for how foolish the Village Trustees appear when trying to cover their backsides and justify their actions. All of them claimed they had no power and had no control and could do nothing to stop the housing project and all of them wanted to ignore the collusion and shenanigans that seem to have happened in secret to set the stage for this mess.
See for yourself here: