Federal attorneys seek to intervene in Haymarket lawsuit against Itasca

Chicago's U.S. attorney's office is seeking to join a lawsuit against Itasca over the village’s rejection of a plan to turn a former hotel into an addiction treatment and recovery center.

Haymarket Center filed the original complaint in January 2022, arguing that Itasca leaders violated federal anti-discrimination laws by denying a request to use a vacant Holiday Inn as a 240-bed center for people with substance-use disorders.

The U.S. attorney’s office for Northern Illinois sided with Haymarket in a motion to intervene as a plaintiff in the pending federal lawsuit, saying village officials “legitimized, endorsed, and fanned the flames of residents’ fears by issuing scores of public statements disparaging Haymarket and its supporters.”

“Having the Department of Justice involved with Haymarket Center is crucial to really getting people to address health equity in this country,” said Dan Lustig, president and CEO of the nonprofit health care provider.

Itasca Mayor Jeff Pruyn reacted on Friday by stating the village “will continue to pursue every avenue available to us to ensure that justice prevails and the truth is upheld.”

Pruyn and an attorney representing the village defended how officials handled the Haymarket review.

Renato Mariotti, the former federal prosecutor the village hired, said he fears the Justice Department’s attempt to insert itself into the case will not bring Haymarket and Itasca closer to a resolution.

“I believe the DOJ’s intervention will waste government resources on a long, expensive litigation that is ill-conceived,” said Mariotti, adding that it would have been better resolved by federal attorneys sitting down and having a discussion with the village “rather than making inaccurate and misleading allegations in a complaint."

According to documents filed Thursday, federal attorneys based in Chicago contend that the village “engaged in disparate treatment by employing a host of unprecedented and highly anomalous tactics to frustrate Haymarket’s treatment center proposal.”

The complaint alleges that village officials “concocted a pretextual narrative that the treatment center would impose severe economic” harm on the region and its taxing bodies. The complaint contends that the village also failed to fulfill its accommodation obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act before denying Haymarket’s zoning request.

In a letter to residents Friday, Pruyn said the evidence supporting the village’s case is “overwhelming.”

“We are offended by their unfair and inaccurate conclusions, which we firmly believe do not reflect the truth of our situation. The DOJ has been wrong before, and we believe they are wrong again in this instance,” Pruyn wrote.

  In October 2023, Haymarket Center unveiled a new sign on the former Itasca hotel building it hopes to convert into a treatment facility for people with substance use disorders. John Starks/, 2023

Lustig said Haymarket is heartened by the Department of Justice’s finding that it “faced a discriminatory and onerous zoning application process.”

“By filing to intervene in this case, the Department of Justice joins Haymarket Center in reinforcing equality and fairness in health care, addressing discrimination and inequalities against those with substance use disorders and protecting vulnerable populations by ensuring immediate access to lifesaving treatment,” Lustig said.

Haymarket, Lustig said, welcomes the opportunity to find a resolution with Itasca leaders and hopes the DOJ filing moves the organization closer to opening up the center. According to Lustig, there were over 1,600 admissions for drug overdoses and drug deaths to hospitals within a 10-mile radius of the site in 2022.

“We will keep this fight until there is a day when we can open because we take the lives of our patients very seriously and the families that are impacted by that,” Lustig said.

Haymarket’s lawsuit alleged officials violated the Fair Housing Act and other laws that prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities, including individuals in treatment for substance use and mental health disorders.

Village officials, however, have maintained that Itasca, a town of less than 10,000, lacks the infrastructure to support a five-story facility that would serve thousands of patients a year.

“At the end of the day, this was an issue of resources, not of animus or discrimination,” Mariotti said.

Trustees in November 2021 unanimously voted against the project after two years and more than 35 public hearings. Haymarket faced stiff opposition from many residents, who insisted the facility would cost the town tax revenue, hurt property values and strain emergency medical services.

Residents rallied before public hearings, posted yard signs, wore matching “small town proud” T-shirts and created a “No Haymarket Itasca” Facebook page.

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