URBANA – The Director of the National Center for Professional and Research Ethics (NCPRE), licensed attorney, and Professor Emerita at the University of Illinois (U of I), C.K (Tina) Gunsalus, filed a lawsuit on August 24, 2022 against her neighbor and U of I alumnus Christopher Hansen. Gunsalus’s husband, President of the Urbana Park District Board of Commissioners, Michael W. Walker is also named as a Plaintiff.
Gunsalus and Walker are seeking compensatory and punitive damages for “deliberate and malicious trespass” on a strip of land between Hansen’s house and property that they own (article here).
There is an ongoing dispute of who owns the strip of land which Hansen has been using and maintaining for the past sixteen years. The same strip of land was used and maintained by his predecessors since the 1970s. The land is immediately adjacent to the foundation of Hansen’s home. Half of Hansen’s brick patio, half of his parking space, and most of his yard is situated on this six-foot strip of land.
Gunsalus is a developer with the Urbana Development Group, a real estate development group focusing on properties in the West Urbana and Historic East Urbana neighborhoods. Her development group receives financial backing from the City of Urbana. Over the years, Gunsalus and her husband have often provided input to the Urbana City Council and Zoning Board of Appeals, expressing disdain for requests from other developers, landlords and residents for zoning changes, zoning variances, changes to setbacks, and conditional use permits.
A few years ago, after her purchase of the abandoned property adjacent to Hansen’s residence, Tina Gunsalus told the West Urbana Neighborhood Association (WUNA) mailing list that they planned to seed the lot and plant some trees after demolishing the abandoned structure. “Our main goal is to try to improve our chunk of the neighborhood,” said Gunsalus.
Gunsalus and Walker then purchased a second abutting property to the west of Hansen’s residence, bringing their parcel to about 90ft in width (plus one large property immediately to the north). Soon after the purchase, Gunsalus and Walker sent a certified letter to Hansen declaring that they owned the few feet of land adjacent to his residence. Gunsalus and Walker refused to agree to a sale or easement for continued use of the few feet of land as it had been used for at least the past 50 years. According to Gunsalus and Walker, this was because they wanted to build as large a structure as possible on the land. This was contrary to what Gunsalus had declared earlier about just wanting to plant trees to improve the neighborhood.
Since filing their lawsuit against Hansen, Gunsalus and Walker have started excavating the land immediately next to Hansen’s home and appear to be building some kind of barrier. They were aided by Ben Baxley, Urbana School District Board of Education candidate, whose family specializes in high-density rooming houses and has a multi-million dollar real estate portfolio.
Tina Gunsalus and Michael Walker have a boisterous presence in the local political scene, holding close political ties with City officials and entrenched politicians in the area. In 2020, they ran their neighbor Erik Sacks as a candidate for Ward 2 Council Member during the Urbana 2021 elections. In 2020-2021, they supported Sacks in a smear campaign that proceeded to call Hansen, founder of local government watchdog news site Check CU and several other newcomer political candidates, extremist terrorists (article here). Other supporters of Sacks and entrenched politicians have publicly called for Hansen to be sued in retaliation for his reporting work.
The full version of the lawsuit filed by Gunsalus and Walker can be viewed here.