A Cook County circuit court judge today reaffirmed her decision allowing the Park District of La Grange to sell 2.82 acres of Gordon Park.
Judge Susan Fox Gillis, in a hearing held this morning, denied a motion from attorneys representing a group of residents who oppose the sale that asked her to vacate the judgment she made in favor of the Park District last Oct. 8 at the conclusion a four-day trial.
Today's ruling "has, in effect, completed the case before the trial court," Robert Bush, the Park District's attorney, said at tonight's regular meeting of the park board.
But Tom Beyer, an attorney for the residents group, La Grange Friends of the Parks, told Gillis he would be filing another motion within the next few weeks asking her to impose a stay prohibiting the Park District from selling the acreage until the case can be argued before the Illinois Appellate Court.
In rejecting today's motion to vacate her ruling, Gillis said that "the Friends bring no new evidence to change the mind of the court."
The objections raised in the motion—which include the Friends' contention that the land to be sold involves more than three acres, and that the Illinois statute governing the sale is unconstitutional— already had been dealt with during hearings that preceded the October trial, Gillis said.
"They have been argued and reargued and reargued," Gillis said in a tone that conveyed her annoyance at having to address the objections one last time. "The Park District has met its burden by any standard that may apply."
An exchange between the Beyer and Gillis grew testy as the attorney pressed the judge to explain her reasons for finding that the Park Commissioners Land Sale Act was not unconstitutional.
"You have denied [our motion] but you have never given us your reasoning as to why you believe it is constitutional," Beyer told the judge.
Gillis responded that Beyer could find the answer in the transcripts of case's earlier proceedings, which spanned more than 18 months.
The judge also denied Beyer's request that, in the event the park land is eventually sold, any proceeds be earmarked for the renovation of the remaining acreage in Gordon Park.
Bush, the Park District's attorney, had argued during the trial that the planned renovation of Gordon Park was a more compelling reason for selling than the acreage than was the park board's contention that the 2.82 acres was no longer useful or needed for park purposes. Bush's presentation in October included major testimony detailing the specific amenities that would be included in a renovation.
But Gillis today said she believed the renovation plans were intended "not to show what [the park district] would do with the money, but what could be done."
The park board, at a regular meeting held last October just days following its victory in court, voted to reject all of the bids it had solicited for the renovation of Gordon Park and shelve the project indefinitely. There would not be adequate funds unless and until the 2.82 acres was sold, they concluded.
The board at that meeting also approved a grant application seeking state funds to cover three-quarters of the cost of a $2 million fitness center it then decided to pursue.
While still awaiting word on the grant, the park board in an informal vote at tonight's meeting decided to continue moving forward on plans for the fitness center after receiving positive input from staff members on the project's feasibility.