Federal reviews all important
It’s not over! As we have said repeatedly, no work on the OPC or related road projects can begin until they are approved by the federal reviews now underway. The importance of the reviews was reinforced by language in the Plan Commission resolutions on the OPC, CDOT, and Park District applications heard on May 17, saying that “…the final application is subject to continuing review under the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historical Preservation Act….” The next Section 106 (historical preservation) meeting is supposed to happen later this month, but no date has been set.
However, sadly, signs are that, in line with the current administration’s approach to (de)regulation, the City has chosen to conduct the Section 106 review in a hurry, cutting corners, with little communication with consulting parties. Further, the City is taking an approach to the NEPA review (National Environmental Policy Act) that appears to be illegal. We are still in research mode on these issues. Look for more information on the federal reviews sometime soon.
800+ trees under threat
The fate of the trees on the planned site of the OPC and in locations that would be impacted by the CDOT road projects has received far too little attention. Those who are familiar with Jackson Park will know that a great many of the trees in question are mature, large and healthy.
Several reports on trees were recently posted on the City’s web site that includes information on proposals for the OPC and the federal review processes, but they received no coverage during the Plan Commission hearing. One important caveat: The report for the OPC site is an inventory of existing trees along with suggestions for their future care. What that report does not reveal is that the plan calls for clear-cutting the site; evidence for this can be found in the OPC site models as well as in comments made by the landscape architects at various meetings.
Combining the tree counts from the reports for the OPC site, the CDOT road changes, and the track/field relocation, we conclude that close to 800 mature trees will be sacrificed if the CDOT road plan and the OPC site plan as currently proposed are implemented. Yes, the Obama Foundation will plant new trees on the OPC site, but it would be a generation or more before Jackson Park recovered.
Full parkland replacement essential
In another area of on-going conflict and concern, the Obama Foundation asserts that, despite the fact that it is slated to take over 19.3 acres of public parkland in Jackson Park, only ONE acre will need to be replaced. The rest, it claims – concrete plaza, green rooftops, and all – will be open to the public and thus will be the same as public parkland.
JPW strongly disagrees. Privately controlled space, no matter how green and lovely, can never be a substitute for true public parkland; private control simply is not the same as public control. To illustrate the point, consider the recently enacted restrictions imposed — without public discussion or input — on concerts in Millennium Park (which, contrary to general belief, is not a public park, but is under private control).
Granted, things might be different at the OPC. Perhaps the Obama Foundation would never restrict public access in any way. Perhaps family picnics would continue as in the past. Perhaps when the former President and Mrs. Obama visit, public access would not be impeded. But perhaps not. And, as with Millennium Park, there would be no recourse.
A far better option, in keeping with the apparent original commitments by the City and Obama Foundation, would be to establish 19.3 acres of new parkland, owned and controlled by the Chicago Park District, proximate to Jackson Park in the Woodlawn community.
We are often asked about the lawsuit filed in mid-May by Protect Our Parks, Inc. Neither JPW nor FOTP has any connection with the suit, although we (JPW) had conversations with some of those involved. The Mayor has labeled the suit frivolous, but we note that the suit raises some very important questions about the proper stewardship of a public good such as Jackson Park and about the hidden processes by which decisions about the Park have been made. A public hearing before the judge is scheduled for August 9. We will keep you posted.
What about golf?
We are also often asked about the proposal to merge/expand the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses. The most important thing to know now is that no formal proposal for the golf course merger/expansion has been submitted to the Plan Commission and that the golf course proposal is not part of the plans undergoing the federal reviews. In other words, the golf course proposal is on the back burner.
It is also interesting to note that the Chicago Golf Parks Alliance has been rather quiet, and that predictions of a pro golf tournament in 2021 have vanished. Instead, the rhetoric has turned to discussion of youth programs and high school golf tournaments. Further, the initial euphoria about miraculous impact on economic development along 71st Street has died down as more realistic assessments have been made.
That said, JPW continues to monitor all activity related to the golf course project. JPW also continues to support improvements of the existing golf courses to benefit current users, just as JPW supports improvements in the Park overall.
This fight is not over. The Plan Commission approvals of the CDOT road changes, the OPC rezoning and construction, and the replacement track/field facility ALL are contingent upon approval via the federal reviews now underway. We continue to participate actively in these processes, utilizing invaluable legal counsel and subject matter experts, all at a price. Our ability to continue this work is dependent on your financial support. Under the terms of our fiscal sponsorship agreement with Friends of the Parks, donations to JPW are tax-deductible. Checks can be sent to JPW at P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. We thank you.
Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
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