Jackson Park Watch Update 11 26 17

Greetings all,

As usual, a lot has been happening, including Thanksgiving! We hope you had an enjoyable one, with friends and family, good food, and many things to be thankful for.

In the interim since our 11/11 Update, much seems to have changed. Here is a run-down:

Plan Commission submission seemingly pushed back

The Obama Foundation has repeatedly said it would submit the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) proposal to the Chicago Plan Commission this calendar year. Now that seems to have changed. While all things are possible with Chicago politics, it is very unlikely that the OPC proposal will be submitted to the Plan Commission for consideration at its December 21 meeting. (Of course, we will continue to be vigilant.) Instead, it appears that the Plan Commission review may be delayed for several months and that the required historical and environmental reviews will start first.


Historical and environmental reviews pushed forward

The City Department of Planning and Development has posted a website with the disarming title of “Environmental Review of Jackson Park Improvements.” You may want to take a look.


After the initial (promotional) paragraphs there is useful information about both of these required reviews – the NEPA review, required under the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Section 106 review, required under the National Historic Preservation Act.

These very important reviews were first noted in a single poster board at the CDOT open houses in August, but there has been very little public discussion of them. Nonetheless, numerous interested groups including Jackson Park Watch have signed on as “consulting parties” for the Section 106 review, scheduled to start on an extremely short-time line, next Friday, December 1. (In fact, JPW is aware of some groups that have requested consulting party status but have not yet received their official invitations, raising questions about the feasibility of the Dec. 1 start date.)

In addition to JPW, other consulting parties that we are now aware of include FOTP, Preservation Chicago, Openlands, Landmarks Illinois, at least one national organization (The Cultural Landscape Foundation), and numerous other local organizations including the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council, Save the Midway and several members of the Community Benefits Agreement coalition. Consulting parties will be able to raise concerns and pursue questions. JPW is working on a statement of concerns for the initial Section 106 meeting, and we are in discussion with an attorney with expertise on Section 106 reviews, especially those related to historic properties such as Jackson Park.

Scrutiny of the maps sent with the official invitation to be a consulting party and available also on the City website shows several interesting and problematic features, among them these:

  • The maps depict the Obama Presidential Center buildings as located on the parkland it has most recently claimed despite the fact the portion of Jackson Park designated for use by the Obama Presidential Library (not Presidential Center) by the City Ordinance of March 2015 is not the same as that now desired by the Obama Foundation.
  • The maps depict the roadway work under review as including Marquette Drive, despite the fact that the proposed Marquette Drive closure has nothing to do with the OPC. (In fact, the Obama Foundation has several times said that the golf course consolidation/expansion project is not its project.) It appears that either the Marquette Drive closure should be severed from this Section 106/NEPA review, or the entire golf course consolidation/expansion project should be added in order to ensure that the golf course project does not escape these vital reviews.
  • The maps depict the current roads to be affected by CDOT’s plans but do not show the proposed reconfigurations.
  • The maps depict the main OPC building as being 220’ tall, which is 40’ higher than previously reported.

As noted on the City website, there will opportunities for broader public participation as well through the NEPA review process and additional meetings to be scheduled for the South Lakefront Framework Planning process. We will alert you to those public meetings as the schedules are announced.


What next?

Based on what we know at present, we anticipate that revisions to the OPC and CDOT proposals resulting from these concurrent reviews – if any – will then be submitted to the Plan Commission for approval. We will be sharing information about that schedule, ways of participating in the Plan Commission process and more when that time comes. We have been asked about the possibility of seeking a remedy in the courts if need be and would simply add that we are not there yet.


Thank you!

We have received generous tax-deductible donations from many and are grateful for the confidence placed in us. While we are comfortable with our current bank balance, it now appears that we will need to retain the services of two attorneys – one for the Section 106 process and one for the Plan Commission process – and perhaps a traffic consultant as well, so we may be making an urgent request for your financial support at some future point. In the meantime, we will continue to gratefully accept checks sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.


As always, feel free to share this Update widely.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch

Jackson Park Watch Update – November 11, 2017

Greetings all,

We are at an important point:

  • As you will see below, the Obama Presidential Center and the controversies that swirl around it have become big news.  There is so much media coverage that it is hard to keep up.
  • As reported in several articles and in a Tribune editorial, the Obama Foundation may be beginning to respond to the community, at least on the issue of the above-ground parking garage it proposes for the Midway.  This is heartening.  We hope the seeming responsiveness continues and expands to all the issues in contention.
  • Also, there are some signs that the Obama Foundation is slowing its rush to submit the OPC proposal to the Chicago Plan Commission.   We hope this proves to be the case.
  • We continue to believe that it will be better for the community and for the Obama Presidential Center itself if the Obama Foundation engages openly and candidly with the community on the full range of issues that are in play.  It is not yet too late.
  • In the meantime, keep raising your voices and explaining your concerns!

OPC in the news!

A growing number of groups and individuals are expressing skepticism about the plans for the Obama Presidential Center, as reported in the Tribune, the Reader, and the Washington Post.  The Tribune concluded in its Nov. 8 editorial that both the City and the Obama Foundation need to be more responsive and to provide concrete answers to the community’s many questions

At the same time, area citizens have been forthright in writing to local newspapers to air their concerns about the empty promise of “trust us,” the conflicted legacy of a community organizer, the lack of community input, and the lack of economic impact where it is most needed.

The first Obama Foundation Summit generated lots of headlines with its innovative programming and celebrity participants.  It also yielded new reports on the evolving design and timetable for the OPC.  The Sun-Times reported comments by Tod Williams, the one of the Center’s architects, that the plans for the parking garage on the Midway were being reconsidered and also commented on active discussions between the Obama Foundation and the Chicago Public Library concerning the possible location of  a branch library within the OPC.    In the Tribune, Blair Kamin noted that the Obama Foundation had evidently slowed its schedule for submission of its plans to the Chicago Plan Commission and commented on the continuing mantle of secrecy surrounding the OPC design.

Meanwhile, the Obama Library South Side Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) Coalition expanded its efforts to bring the Obama Foundation to the negotiating table with a demonstration at the  OPC site on Nov. 7.    About 130 enthusiastic supporters turned out for speeches and a brief interruption of rush-hour commutes at the intersection of Cornell and Hayes drives.  As the Tribune reported, the CBA advocates  believe that the transfer of  public parkland for the OPC carries with it a requirement for public accountability.  


Tracking the OPC submission to the Chicago Plan Commission:

Speculation abounds as to when and by what method the Obama Foundation will formally submit its proposal for the Obama Presidential Center for approval by the Chicago Plan Commission.  The Plan Commission hearing will be the most critical opportunity for community comment.  Much will depend on what the submission looks like, and although the Obama Foundation may have slowed its timeline for the submission, we need to be vigilant.   While we wait, here is what we actually know:

  1. Notification:  Notices about the submission of the application for Plan Commission approval  must be sent to “property owners” within 250 feet of the boundaries of the “subject property,” not including roads or alleys, at least 15 days prior to the Plan Commission hearing.
  2. Who will receive the notification? “Property owner” in this case means the individual  (or the individual’s agent) who receives and pays the property tax bill.  Thus, individual unit owners in a condominium building would receive individual notices, as would owners of single family houses.  Residents in cooperatives would not receive an individual notice; the notice would go to a coop officer or perhaps to the property manager.  Renters would not receive notices; the building’s owner would.
  3. What is the “subject property”?Given this unusual situation, it is not clear what the ”subject property” will actually be and thus is it unclear what area will be affected by the mandatory notice requirement.  The notification zone almost certainly would stretch all along the west side of Stony Island between 63rd St/Hayes and the Midway, and then perhaps 250 feet further south and north as well.  It may well include all of the area east of the Metra tracks.
  4. Be on the lookout if you are in the notification zone:  Because neither Margaret nor Brenda is eligible for this notification, we ask everyone who may be receiving a notice to monitor the mail carefullyand contact us immediately upon receiving the notice.  The notice is likely to be sent via regular business mail, coming perhaps from a law firm or other agent acting on behalf of the Obama Foundation; it is even conceivable that it will be from the City.
  5. Then what? As soon as we have a chance to review the notice with our attorney, we will share information about what comes next.  We will be able to inform all concerned about the hearing and provide details about how one can testify or otherwise provide input into that assessment.
  6. IMPORTANT: You do NOT have to receive an official notification to be able to testify at the Plan Commission hearing! In general, anyone who wishes to comment on a proposal that has been submitted to the Plan Commission can do so.  Statements are limited to 3 minutes.  We will no doubt want to do a lot of advance planning to ensure that all of the important points are covered.


JPW Recognized as a VIP!

That’s VIP as in “Volunteer-in-Parks.”   On Nov. 5, Friends of the Parks recognized Jackson Park Watch at its 2017 VIP Awards Reception, meeting this year in Douglas Park.    JPW was honored to be acknowledged for its advocacy efforts on behalf of Jackson Park.


Thank you! 

We have received generous donations from many and are grateful for the confidence placed in us.  Although we will continue to gratefully accept checks sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615, we now have enough in our account to fund this current phase of our work.  However, we may be asking for your financial support again in the future.


As always, feel free to share this Update widely.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-founders, Jackson Park Watch