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.
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.
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