Jackson Park Watch Update – January 27, 2018

Greetings, all! 

NEW! With typical short notice, the Park District/Chicago Parks Golf Alliance has scheduled ONE (and only one!) meeting for community review and discussion of the golf course plans: NEXT WEDNESDAY, Jan. 31, at the South Shore Cultural Center at 6 p.m.


Key issues to check on include:
* preservation of the Nature Sanctuary and recreation areas;
* expansion of the new golf course site beyond the current footprints of the courses;
* expansion of the current driving range rather than shifting it south of Hayes Drive;
* continued accessibility and affordability for local golfers;
* cost to taxpayers for infrastructure work; and
* evidence of a viable business plan.

NOTE: JPW advocates opposition to changes that go beyond the footprints of the current courses and/or that remove the Nature Sanctuary and existing recreational areas. A key point you may want to make: the upgraded golf course does NOT need to be longer and could fit in the current footprint! In fact, current discussions in golfing circles focus on problems with longer golf courses, with some elite players predicting that shorter courses are the wave of the future.

OPC redesign prompts further questions:

Jackson Park Watch has not previously commented extensively on the OPC site plan or building design. However, as JPW and others have had a chance to review the revised design for the Obama Presidential Center, attention is required.

The substantially greater height of the proposed tower (now 235’) and the revelation that the Obama Foundation apparently intends to spotlight it at night have been focal points for many. (For comparison, the Museum of Science and Industry is approximately 125’ tall and the Logan Center for the Performing Arts on the UChicago campus, also by the OPC architects, is 170’ tall.) Concerns about the large shadow on sunny days and the nighttime light pollution in the surrounding neighborhoods as well as about the impact on migrating birds are getting attention.

Questions about the uses of the proposed buildings have also been raised. The Lakefront Protection Ordinance application describes the tower as “composed of 8 primary floors and multiple mezzanine levels”; the museum is described as taking up about half of the building. There will be rental/event space in the tower and in other buildings. The relationship between the proposed 40,000 sq. ft. Athletic Center and the Jackson Park Fieldhouse and South Side YMCA has not been made clear.

Some have taken note of the overall site plan as well, observing that all traces of the existing segment of Jackson Park – trees, shrubs, grass, even the existing grade levels – would be eliminated by the OPC design. (The Obama Foundation plans to clear-cut and level the site.) Questions about the amount of existing recreational space that would be eliminated have been raised also, as well as questions about the replacement parkland that the City is required to provide in lieu of the OPC land. While the Obama Foundation prefers to call the proposed OPC campus “parkland,” a privately controlled site is certainly not a public park. Issues of ownership and control need to be clarified. The Obama Foundation states that the OPC will be free and open to the public, but we know that the museum and the underground parking garage will both require fees, and while presumably those fees have been factored into the budget, that information has yet to be made public.

Many have noted as well that the OPC redesign continues to presume the closure of Cornell Drive and the extensive road changes that would entail (all at taxpayer expense). The absence of attention to public transit or to access by pedestrians or bicycles has also raised some eyebrows: the auto-centric plan includes 450 parking spaces for cars and 38 for bicycles.

Two reviews are underway:

First, the Chicago Plan Commission review. The OPC has applied for rezoning of the park site as a Planned Development, and under a separate application argues that its plan meets all of the requirements of the Lakefront Protection Ordinance. The CPD and CDOT have also submitted related applications; all are available on-line (scroll to bottom of screen). However, the applications do not include many supplementary studies needed for a thorough and rigorous review. Information from shadow and sun access studies, pedestrian circulation studies, tree studies, wind studies, traffic and parking impact studies, and other such vital indicators of the effects of the OPC on the near neighborhood and broader community should be made available for the review, not only to the Plan Commission members but also to the public in general; they are not now available. JPW will be pursuing these issues. The formal Plan Commission hearing on the OPC is now scheduled for mid-April (likely April 19, the regular meeting date).  All interested members of the public will be able to attend and testify, so you may want to add this to your calendar.

Related to the Plan Commission review: It has been announced that the Obama Foundation, CDOT, and the Park District will host public meeting(s) in mid-February in preparation for the Plan Commission hearing. It is unusual for such a preparatory meeting to occur, and it is unclear what purpose such a meeting could serve. JPW has asked for more information and will share what is learned.

Second, the federal review process is focused on the questions of whether the proposed development is appropriate for an historic park that is on the National Register of Historic Places and whether the project will have adverse environmental impacts. Since the Plan Commission and City Council can be expected to approve the applications that come to them, these federal reviews are extremely significant. Construction of the OPC cannot begin until these federal reviews are concluded and mitigation of adverse impacts (if any) is explored.

Stay tuned for more information on these parallel reviews and for specific opportunities for public input.

South Lakefront Framework Plan timing questioned:

Among the “Key Milestone” dates posted on the City Department of Planning and Development website are several unspecified events in January and February designated as “preparation for final steps” in the development of the new South Lakefront Framework Plan and concluding on an unspecified date in April when the final plan would be presented to the Park District Board of Commissioner.

However, as has been noted many times, the Framework Plan process that the Park District is running is seriously flawed in two essential ways:

  • rather than being one coherent planning process that encompasses the whole of Jackson Park, it is siloed, with three (or more) projects being proposed simultaneously yet reviewed separately;
  • further, it is based on the premise that the Obama Presidential Center will be constructed as now proposed, that all of the (costly) road changes it demands will take place; and that the golf course merger/expansion will similarly occur as initially proposed.

In fact, none of these projects can proceed prior to the end of the federal review process described above, which is expected to conclude in the fall at the earliest.   We understand that the Park District wishes to create momentum for all of these proposals. However, any Framework Plan based on these initial premises may well need to be revised shortly depending on what actually transpires during the review.

Help us with a donation!

The legal assistance your donations have enabled us to secure is proving invaluable. Such expert counsel is critical to our ability to raise key questions and concerns. Please consider a contribution (or a second one). Your check can be sent to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. We thank you! 

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

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