TAKING STOCK: the story of the Obama Presidential Center, road closures and realignments, and the related golf course merger/expansion project is complicated and ever-changing as it proceeds down multiple pathways simultaneously. Our attempt to cut through the confusion and summarize the current situation is below.
The Obama Presidential Center and the related road changes
The Plan Commission
- The OPC application for a zoning change and the OPC and CDOT applications under the Lakefront Protection Ordinance, long expected to be heard by the Chicago Plan Commission on Thursday, April 19, may not be reviewed until May. We will keep you posted.
- When the meeting does occur, it will start at 10 am and continue until all public comments have been taken.
- Each speaker will be limited to 3 minutes, but everyone will be allowed to speak, so this could take many hours.
- We urge everyone who has questions or concerns to be there if at all possible. We will provide more details about ways to participate as the date approaches.
- Remember, Plan Commission approval will NOT mean the project can proceed. Approvals via the federal review process are needed before any work can start.
Federal review #1 – Section 106
- A Section 106 review began December 1. Remember, this is a mandatory review of any project in a public park or place listed on or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places that involves federal funding or requires federal approval: the proposed road changes trigger this review, which covers the OPC as well and focuses on historic buildings and sites.
- The second Section 106 meeting has been set for Thursday, March 29, from 3:30 to 5:30 pm, in the auditorium of U Chicago’s Logan Center (915 E. 60th St.).
- The meeting will consider the draft Historic Properties Inventory and Archeology Reports, and discuss next steps. The (very lengthy) reports are available online (scroll down to the March 19 entry under Milestones). The City’s Department of Planning and Development is taking public comments on the reports until April 19 via email to its general address – DPD@cityofchicago.org (be sure to include reference to Section 106 review of OPC in the subject line). The Archeology Report was summarized by Blair Kamin in the 3/25 Tribune.
- The March 29 meeting is open to the public, and we urge interested people to attend. We note, however, that the timing is less than ideal for public input: CPS and many other schools are on break, the next day is Good Friday, Passover starts on Saturday, and Easter is on Sunday.
Federal review #2 – NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act)
- A NEPA review of the proposals for the OPC and road changes is also required. It will focus on impacts on the environment broadly defined as including wildlife and habitat, air and water quality, noise, traffic, and socioeconomic factors.
- Although it was reported at the December 1 Section 106 kickoff meeting that the NEPA review would be “starting soon,” that has not happened. We are hopeful that there will be word on that schedule at the March 29 meeting.
Federal review #3 – Section 4(f)
- A Section 4(f) review is also triggered by the CDOT road proposals under the US Department of Transportation Act, which provides for consideration of the impact on parkland and historic sites during transportation project development.
- Beyond a mention in the initial letter sent to Section 106 consulting parties, there is no indication to date that this will take place.
- A 4(f) review is especially important because it requires substantive consideration of alternatives to proposed road projects.
- JPW will continue to follow this issue closely.
Federal review #4 – UPARR (Urban Parks And Recreational Recovery Act)
- Because improvements and programs in Jackson Park were funded by several grants under the UPARR program, recreational areas in the park cannot be converted to non-recreational use unless certain conditions are met and approval by the National Park Service is forthcoming.
- One of the conditions is provision of appropriate alternate parkland.
- Virtually no public information has been made available about this review to date.
South Lakefront Framework Plan
The Park District has continued to rush through its hastily developed South Lakefront Framework Plan (SLFP), which is now slated to be approved by the Park District Board at its April 11 meeting. Here are key points to keep in mind:
- The Park District and others continue to assert that the placement of the OPC, the proposed road changes, and the golf course expansion/merger were needed to support the SLFP.
- In fact the opposite is the case: the SLFP was initiated after all of those proposals were already developed and was premised on their being in the Park. No public discussion of the status of these key projects was entertained at any point during the SLFP development process.
- While there are many elements in the new SLFP that many may like, there is as yet no funding for anything other than (potentially) the OPC and road changes and the relocation of the current track to accommodate the OPC. Like prior park framework plans, it merely sets forth, without funding plans or timelines, possible projects to be developed over the next 10 years, and is subject to on-going change.
- Of particular concern in this regard is the failure to provide a real plan and timeline for the much-needed replacement of the Jackson Park Fieldhouse, now 60 years old and in bad shape after years of under investment.
That golf course plan
- Beyond the much-hyped revised design, proposals to actually move the project forward have not been submitted to the Plan Commission.
- While a Section 106 and NEPA review would certainly be required for that project, as would a review under the City’s Lakefront Protection Ordinance, none has yet been initiated.
- Funding for the golf course and/or the expensive related infrastructure has not been identified.
The broader context
This complicated story of multiple proposals, reviews and timelines for changes in Jackson Park is set against the background of the surrounding neighborhoods that will be impacted by the proposals. A recent Washington Post article provides a wide-angled view of the issues.
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