Court Dismisses Most of the Claim Challenging Renovation of Northwestern’ Ryan Field

May 3, 2024

An Illinois state judge has dismissed major portions of a lawsuit filed by residents of Evanston, Illinois, who sought to block the planned renovation of Northwestern University’s Ryan Field.

Specifically, the court dismissed three of four counts brought by the plaintiffs, who live near the stadium. The 13 plaintiffs had sought to invalidate the city council’s 5-4 vote to change the city’s zoning law. The change would make it possible for the facility to host as many as six concerts per year.

The constitutional claim is still pending.

The aforementioned vote came last fall in the aftermath of an agreement between Northwestern and the City of Evanston. That agreement called for the university to provide $157 million over a 15-year period in tax revenue and other financial incentives to Evanston.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed that the city failed to follow the proper procedures in approving the renovation project. Specifically, they alleged that the city violated laws requiring a supermajority vote on a zoning change when a certain percentage of nearby residents are opposed to that change.

Furthermore, Mayor Daniel Biss and some council members “cut a backroom deal in which they agreed to disregard the applicable laws and evidence in exchange for monetary contributions from Northwestern,” according to the complaint, allegedly violating the plaintiffs’ due process rights.

In response to the lawsuit, city attorneys wrote; “Even if the City had failed to follow its own rules or state statutes in the ways the plaintiffs allege (which it did not), the law is clear that such a failure alone cannot provide the plaintiffs with a cause of action based on the City’s home rule authority.”

Furthermore, they argued that since it was a text amendment, a supermajority was not required.

“If the City had intended to require more than 5 votes to approve a text amendment, the City would have listed that requirement in Council Rule 25 along with all the other extraordinary vote requirements,” they wrote. “The City Council Rules are clear: 5 votes are all that was required to pass the Text Amendment Ordinance.”

The court agreed, writing “this is not a map amendment. The amendment altered the permitted uses shown in the text of the zoning ordinance. It didn’t change the zoning classification. They didn’t have to make any changes to the zoning map to reflect those changes.”

The constitutional due process claim continues.

David DeCarlo, president of the Most Livable City Association, which is affiliated with the plaintiffs, released the following statement: “While we disagree with today’s ruling on our procedural due process claims, we will keep advocating for the full constitutional guarantee of due process that protects all residents from arbitrary government decisions.”

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