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Monday, October 21, 2013

Court Upheld Park District's Sale of Land

On October 17, 2013, the First District Appellate Court issued an important decision upholding the authority for Illinois park districts to sell unneeded land and finding that the public trust doctrine does not stand in the way of park district land sales, when the private interests from the sale are incidental to public purpose of the sale. In re Application of Park District of LaGrange, 2013 IL App (1st) 110334
In 2009, the Park District filed an application under the Park Commissioners Land Sale Act (the “Act”), 70 ILCS 1235/1, to sell 2.82 acres of land the Park District Board of Commissioners deemed, by resolution, no longer necessary or useful for park purposes. An association known as “La Grange Friends of the Parks” (“Objector”) filed an objection under the Act, and after a trial, the circuit court entered an order authorizing the Park District to sell the land at a price to be established by calculating the average of three appraisals. The Objector appealed.
The court first concluded that the Park District has the authority to pass resolutions in support of its application under the Act. Next, the court rejected the Objector’s contention that a separate transfer of an adjacent parcel caused the application to exceed the 3 acre jurisdictional limitation in the Act, finding that the Act allows the Park District to transfer more than one parcel within one park in separate transactions. This arrangement did not amount to impermissible “subterfuge” to get around the jurisdictional limitation in the Act.
Next, the court upheld the constitutionality of the Act. The Objector argued that the Act violates the Separation of Powers clause of the Illinois Constitution because it requires the circuit court to make a legislative determination of the public interest. However, the court concluded the Act actually “confers the authority on the Park District, not the trial court, to make the initial determination that park land is no longer needed, necessary, or useful and that its sale would be for the public interest.”
In reviewing the conduct of the trial court, the appellate court concluded that the Park District’s determination that the land was not needed or useful, and that the selling of the land would benefit the park, was not arbitrary and capricious. The court concluded the public trust doctrine only applies to submerged land, and even if it did apply, the financial benefits to private interests from the sale are incidental to public purpose of the sale. Finally, the court recognized that the Park District presented ample evidence that the land provided little value to the public, and that the benefits from the sale were in the public interest. As a result, the sale of the land bore a real and substantial relation to the general welfare, and was a rational means to accomplish a legitimate purpose.
Post Authored by Dan Bolin, Ancel Glink


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