LAKEVIEW — A wealthy, politically connected family blocked off 3,000 square feet of public parkland in Lakeview as their own front yard for the past five years by planting hedges, Chicago Park District’s inspector general alleged in a new report.
The homeowners put in hedges and fencing in 2015, effectively cordoning off the parkland to create a makeshift yard on land reserved for public use, parks Inspector General Will Fletcher wrote in a report last week.
And for five years, the Park District has been trying to get the family to remove the approximately 4-foot-high landscaping, but they have refused.
Instead, city officials have been met with “unsubstantiated and conflicting explanations” about their right to exclude access to public parkland from an “apparently well-connected” family, Fletcher wrote.
Although the inspector general’s report does not identify the address or homeowner by name, sources confirm it refers to a sleek, modern home in the 3000 block of North Lake Shore Drive West owned by businessman Michael Tadin Jr. and his wife, Natalie Tadin.
Michael Tadin, in a Tuesday interview with Block Club, took issue with the Park District report, saying the land is owned by the city and he’s gotten legal permission to use and maintain it. He acknowledged the yard is publicly-owned and said despite the hedges, dozens of people use the lawn each day.
“There’s an opening from the city sidewalk,” he said. “There’s at least 50 people a day that come in there and take their dogs and their dogs go to the bathroom.”
Tadin said the land he’s cordoned off is “much nicer” than the land of the surrounding properties.
“I mean, they barely cut the grass on the rest of the block,” he said. “You’ve got something that’s impeccably maintained. … I don’t know what the issue is.”
Tadin said the Park District raises the issue every year, and if it comes down to it, he will remove the hedges.
“I get the same letter every year and every year they come to the same conclusion that it’s city property and we did it properly,” he said.
But the inspector general says the family’s ongoing refusal to remove the intrusions into public land sends a clear message.
“The message that Homeowner’s hedgerows sends to anyone walking by his/her house is clear: ‘This land is my property,'” the report reads.
The inspector general’s report was first brought to light by Better Government Association reporter Alejandra Cancino in a tweet on Monday.
Tadin co-owns the controversial MAT Asphalt plant in McKinley Park and MT Transit. He also owns Morgan Street Development. He is the son of trucking magnate Michael Tadin Sr., the chief beneficiary of the Hired Truck scandal and a key ally to former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
The senior Tadin built his trucking empire with the help of tens of millions of dollars in city contracts doled out to his businesses, including Marina Cartage and MAT Construction. The $40-million-a-year cash spigot to construction companies under Daley ended after the Sun-Times exposed the scandal.
The Tadin family and their companies spread that wealth to politicians across Chicago by way of campaign contributions. Tadin Jr. and his wife have donated to local politicians, including Ald. Tom Tunney of the 44th Ward, where the home sits, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
But Tadin said Tuesday no one is looking out for him within the city, nor is his makeshift front lawn a favor from the city.
“I moved into the area. You know, I donate to a lot of different political organizations. It’s nothing new,” Tadin said. “I’ve never asked the alderman for anything out of the ordinary. …
“We went through the proper channels.”
On Tuesday, a worker from landscaping company Topiarius was trimming trees on the park side of the land. The worker said his company works for Tadin.
“I’ve only been with the company since the fall but I believe they’ve been doing this work for a few years,” he said.
The Tadins might not be the only ones encroaching on parkland in Lakeview. The home’s hedges stand out for their boldness in commandeering public land for private use, but there are other “minor encroachments” in parkland at properties nearby, the inspector general’s report stated.
When contacted by the district’s Law Department in 2015, other property owners in the area “tentatively agreed with the Park District’s terms for use on parkland for decorative improvements and construction of walkways to allow street access through parkland.”
However, the Tadins’ shifting explanations and refusals to remove the hedgerows have delayed the district’s ability to remedy the other encroachments, the report said.
The investigation found the homeowner did not dispute the land belonged to the Park District, but rather offered “conflicting explanations about obtaining easements on the land.” The homeowners were granted the right to construct a sidewalk, through the public way, from their property to the public sidewalk, but they did not receive the right to section off 3,000 square feet for their own use.
In September 2017, City Council passed two ordinances granting the Tadins privileges into the public way. The first allowed the family to “maintain and use” a 45-foot sidewalk adjacent to their property, running through the parkland, for five years at a cost of $1,263 per year. The second earned them the right to pay $400 per year for access to steps connecting the sidewalk to their home.
Tadin said that although the grants of privilege only allow the 45-foot sidewalk and steps, when he filed the application it was for the entire area bounded by the public sidewalk and his property line. The city requires him to insure the larger area, which he claimed is reflected in his homeowners insurance.
“When I did the grant of privilege it was all in the application, the pictures, everything was in there three or four years ago,” he said. “Every year I go through the same issue with the Park District and I have a lawyer, she’ll talk to them and every year it goes away and it comes back.”
As is custom, both ordinances were sponsored by the local alderman, Tunney, who has received campaign contributions from Tadin’s company.
Tunney and the 44th Ward political organization began receiving contributions from the Tadin-owned companies in 2015, the same year the yard was fenced in.
Citizens For Tunney and the 44th Ward Regular Democratic Org received at least $8,000 from MAT Construction through 2019.
Tunney’s chief of staff, Bennett Lawson, chalked up the donations as the Tadins being constituents of the alderman. When the hedgerow issue came to Tunney’s attention five years ago, he sent word to the Park District to address the matter, Lawson said.
When the land was developed, the alderman did not want a high-rise to be built. Nor did he want a driveway connecting the home to inner Lake Shore Drive, Lawson said. The sidewalk permit was a compromise to allow the Tadins access to their house from the sidewalk, Lawson said.
Tunney “learned more” from the inspector general’s report on the matter than his conversations with the Park District, Lawson said, adding they will “be responding” soon to the report.
Historic images from Google Street View show the hedges were installed sometime between May 2014 and September 2015. Although not included in the inspector general’s report, at some point between fall 2017 and July 2018 a large tree was removed from the parkland and replaced with a new, smaller one, giving the Tadins a better view of the park beyond what had already been claimed as their own.
In his report, Fletcher recommended the Park District give the homeowners 30 days to “remove his encroachment” and to take action, including filing a civil suit, if the order is not complied with.
The report states it will detail the Park District’s response in a subsequent report.
“If they prove it’s their land, that’s not a problem to just take the hedges down,” Tadin said.
Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks, a nonprofit that works to ensure parks are used equitably, said similar cases have happened in the past. She’s found the Park District “doesn’t take these issues very seriously.”
“I think they don’t think it’s worth the expenditure of their time and legal resources,” she said. “But we think it sends a very bad message and a very bad precedent that individuals can usurp private land at will.
“The Park District should absolutely take their land back, there’s no question. [They] need to send the message that those who are well connected or affluent don’t get to take the parkland.
“In the especially egregious situations like this one in Lakeview, the mayor herself and the park district need to step up and demonstrate they actually believe in equity, which means not allowing the more well-resourced among us to get their way just because they can.”
Officials with the Park District and the Mayor’s Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Sun Times reported in 2018 that Tadin Sr. continues to benefit from city contracts, having been paid over $77 million to operate a city-owned waste transfer facility through a deal that began under Daley and extended under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
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