Jackson Park Watch Update – September 22, 2018

Greetings, all,

The flurry of Jackson Park activity has continued this week.  Here is the latest:

Protect Our Parks lawsuit discovery begins, City’s “no connection” claim dismissed

On Thursday, 9/20, as reported in the Sun-Times and the Herald, there was another hearing in the lawsuit filed by Protect Our Parks to prevent the construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.  The hearing addressed POP’s recent motion to halt work on the new track in Jackson Park on the grounds that it violated the judge’s stay on construction relating to the Obama Presidential Center until the lawsuit was settled.  (POP’s motion had been filed prior to Monday’s announcement by the Park District that work on the track would be stopped until the federal reviews of the proposed OPC and related changes to the park were complete.)

POP documented the intertwining of the OPC and the track project, citing the language of the “donation agreement” signed in February by which the Obama Foundation agreed to pay for the track relocation because “the site selected for the OPC would necessitate the relocation of an existing multi-use artificial turf field with a running track.”   POP also noted the text of the Chicago Plan Commission resolution of May 17 approving the application for the track project, which included the condition “THAT the final application is subject to continuing review under the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act….”

In response the City and Park District continued to assert that the OPC and the track construction were “separate” projects even as they acknowledged that the track project was now on hold.  They tried to focus only on the OPC, emphasized that a new ordinance authorizing the OPC was being introduced in the City Council even as the court hearing was in progress, and asked that further action on the POP lawsuit be delayed until that ordinance has been voted on by the City Council at its Oct. 31 meeting.  They emphasized that the new ordinance would create a “user agreement” rather than a “lease agreement.”

The judge expressed disappointment with the City’s arguments and declined to delay further consideration of the POP lawsuit beyond the October 24 hearing date already set.  He also gave POP full authority to commence the discovery process to secure documents relating to the development of plans for the OPC from the City and Park District

Read the fine print

As noted above, Mayor Emanuel introduced an ordinance to City Council on Thursday 9/20 to amend the 2015 Ordinance transferring land from the Park District to the City in order to offer the Obama Foundation space in Jackson Park for the Obama Center.  The new ordinance redefines the site to be used for the OPC – now annexing portions of Cornell Drive and of the Midway Plaisance eastbound drive (both roads to be closed) and enfolding the Perennial Garden into the OPC campus.

The 120-page document requires a lot of study.  We are investigating it with particular attention to the issues of public control of the site and costs to taxpayers when all is said and done.  Look for more information as our review progresses.

Attached to the ordinance are three agreements between the City and the Obama Foundation that are of particular interest.  They would be enacted after the ordinance is approved:

  • Exhibit D:  Use Agreement detailing the restrictions governing the Obama Foundation’s use of the space in Jackson Park.  Details are such as term limit and “consideration” (99 years for $10), admission fees, naming rights, maintenance, insurance, construction commitments, public access, etc.
  • Exhibit E:  Master Agreement detailing City ownership, land title, financing, Foundation endowment, etc.
  • Exhibit F:  Environmental Remediation and Indemnity Agreement detailing responsibility and liability for any environmental hazards on the site.  The City is to pay up to $75,000 for environmental testing.  The City would be liable for the costs of any remediation work.  Since the site has a very high water table, this could be substantial.
  • Also attached are Exhibits G, H-1and H-2, which describe the transportation improvements to be implemented by the Chicago Department of Transportation on behalf of the OPC.  It is notable that the Exhibits include no information about the cost or sources of funding for the road work (estimated to be some $175 million – or more – all to be paid by taxpayers).  Also notable is that the documents relate only to road work, with no reference to public transit improvements.

We encourage interested people to explore the materials first hand. You can find the proposed ordinance via the Legislation database of the Office of the City Clerk:   Open the attachment – O2018-7136.pdf – that is highlighted in blue at the bottom of the form.

The ordinance has been referred to the Committee on Housing and Real Estate, and is expected to be brought up for approval at the City Council meeting on October 31.

NPS solicits community views on recreation, parkland replacement

In the last Update, we encouraged people to write Morgan Elmer of the NPS, now leading the NEPA review of the proposed OPC and related road changes. At the September 17 public information meeting about the NEPA review, Elmer and other NPS staff who were present said that they are very interested in hearing from community members.  We know that she has acknowledged, with thanks, comments that some have already submitted.

We’ve since been asked for some ideas for such letters.  Based on our conversations with NPS staff on 9/17, here are some thoughts:

*  One topic of interest to NPS is how community members currently use Jackson Park, whether for active recreation (soccer, running, biking) or passive recreation (birding, walking, fishing) — and how they would like to use it in the future.

*  Another is community views on whether the east end of the Midway should be used as the replacement site for the baseball diamonds demolished when the Park District jump-started its new track/field project, now on hold  – or not.   (Note that the existing track field is still in good shape and is used daily).  Contrary to City reports, the NPS has not yet made any final determination.

* Another is the question of whether community members believe that the OPC site would be the equivalent of a public park as the City and Obama Foundation assert, and thus that virtually no parkland replacement should be required, or whether replacement parkland for some portion or most of that site should be required.

We repeat our suggestion that letters be sent to both Morgan Elmer (morgan_elmer@nps.gov  and Abby Monroe (abby.monroe@cityofchicago.org).  Sending them to both ensures that they will be entered into the public record.

Your support still needed!

As this information makes clear, consideration of the proposed changes to Jackson Park is entering a critical phase at both the city and federal levels.  Your financial support helps ensure we have the expertise we need.  Please send a donation via check to Jackson Park Watch at P. O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – September 19, 2018

Greetings, all,

There has been a tidal wave of Jackson Park activity this week. Here’s a summary starting with the most recent announcement.

For lease: 19.3 acres of prime parkland for 9.9 cents per year for 99 years

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the City has offered the Obama Foundation a very sweet deal in the lease agreement that has been a long time in coming. As discussed in the Sun-Times and Crain’s, the proposed lease agreement does require the Obama Foundation to live up to some very basic standards including delaying any development until the completion of the federal review process, but it also proposes to give the Foundation control over this invaluable piece of historic public park on terms that amount to a quasi-privatization. It also underscores prior City and Obama Foundation assertions that virtually no replacement parkland would be needed even though the OPC site would take over 19.3 acres of Jackson Park now used for a wide variety of recreational activities that might potentially require a UPARR conversion approval.

Also in the works at the same time is a proposed ordinance that would redefine the portion of Jackson Park to be given to the Obama Foundation. This altered site would conform to the Obama Foundation’s plans as revealed in 2017 to move the site north and east, taking over Cornell Drive and the Perennial Garden and eliminating the eastbound segment of the Midway Plaisance Drive between Stony Island and Cornell Drive.

The revised ordinance and proposed lease ordinance will apparently be introduced to the City Council this Thursday, though they do not yet appear on the agenda as of mid-day Wednesday.

Protect Our Parks lawsuit attracts Obama Foundation response

The sudden urgency to introduce new ordinances for City Council approval is perhaps related to the September 20 hearing on the Protect Our Parks (POP) recent motion to require the City to cease work in Jackson Park. (See here for details of the POP motion.) Also timely, representatives of the Obama Foundation just made their first public comments on the POP lawsuit in discussion with the Tribune editorial board on Tuesday.

City and Park District halt work on Jackson Park replacement track

A day earlier, on Monday, Sept. 17, the City released the news that it was ceasing work on the new track/field facility necessitated because the existing track/field would be replaced by the OPC. In the meantime, the existing track/field remains intact and is in daily use. The City has previously denied to the public and in court (in the POP hearing on 8/14) that there was any connection between the OPC project and the new track/field facility. Of particular note are the Sun-Times reports that “[t]he city decision to stop the work came after a Sept. 11 meeting with the National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration,” and that, according to the City’s deputy communications direction Shannon Breymaier, construction will not resume until “the federal agencies confirm that resumption of work is appropriate.”

Initial thoughts about the September 17 NEPA review meeting

The public meeting about the NEPA review offered lots of information but no clarity. While we salute the NPS for having this meeting – and for having Morgan Elmer, the NPS lead person on the review, there in person and ready to talk to all who were interested (we saw people lining up to talk with her!) – we are still working to sort it all out.

Our initial thoughts:

* It is very significant that the NPS has determined that the “no-action” baseline for its review of the proposed projects (OPC, road changes) will be the park as it now is. JPW and many others have criticized the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) proposal to use the envisioned completion of all of OPC and road changes as its “baseline” for review.

* Of equal importance, we think, is NPS’s comment that it is very interested in community input on the issues it will be assessing in the NEPA review – recreation, current and future desired uses of the park, traffic, birds, and more. It also was made clear that, despite City representations to the contrary, no NPS decisions have been made about UPARR conversion and parkland replacement issues. Note that NPS’s specific concern with regard to UPARR is the “retention of recreational utility in the area,” with recreation being both active and passive pastimes.

Letter writing encouraged

Because of the NPS interest in community views and because of the new NPS role in the process, we encourage interested people to write Morgan Elmer, the NPS lead on the NEPA review, with questions and concerns about these and other related issues as noted above. In order to be certain that these comments become part of the public records, we recommend that the letters be jointly addressed to Ms. Elmer and Abby Monroe at the City’s Department of Planning and Development, and that the subject line be something like this: public comment re NPS NEPA review of proposed changes in Jackson Park.

Morgan Elmer: morgan_elmer@nps.gov

Abby Monroe: abby.monroe@cityofchicago.org

More information on the NEPA meeting

The City has posted links to the introductory video and the presentation boards from the 9/17 meeting on its federal reviews website (check the timetable box for Sept. 17). We are the first to admit the information is not fully self-evident. We will continue to try to sort it out and to provide more clarity.

Your support still needed!

As this summary again makes clear, the federal review of the proposed changes to Jackson Park is on-going and entering a critical phase.  We continue to be engaged in regulatory and legal consultations, and your financial support helps ensure we have the expertise we need.  Please send a donation check to Jackson Park Watch at P. O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.

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

Jackson Park Watch Update – September 14, 2018

Two items:

* Meeting reminder
* New development in Protect Our Parks Lawsuit

Public Information Meeting Reminder!

The National Park Service (NPS) will host a public information meeting regarding the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review of the proposed Obama Presidential Center (OPC) and related road changes this coming Monday, September 17.  We urge you to attend the meeting, which will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 South Shore Drive.

This important meeting heralds a new phase in the federal reviews of the OPC and related road change proposals. NPS is now the lead agency for the NEPA review of these proposals.  As was outlined at the kick-off meeting of the federal reviews on Dec. 1, 2017, the NEPA review will assess the environmental effects of these proposed projects including the impacts on noise; traffic; wildlife/habitat; air & water quality; and socioeconomics.  Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration will continue as the lead federal agency for the related reviews required by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which is still underway.

JPW has been in contact with Morgan Elmer, who is the NPS lead on this review and will be at the meeting. She explained what will take place at the meeting:

We are going to be available to clarify the NEPA process forward. To supplement the meeting’s primary purpose of describing the newly combined federal NEPA review process, we will be sharing the draft purpose and needs [statement]for the federal agencies.  We will also describe how the NEPA process will rely heavily on associated work on the NHPA Section 106 process.  

At Monday’s informational meeting we are planning on having a film loop to supplement our posters.  We will have staff at the posters to clarify our status.  As you know from my earlier email, we will put the meeting information on the City’s website and a future National Park Service site. This is to ensure those who are not able to attend in person get the same information.  

For those who want to catch up on the review process to date, documents and timelines are available on the website maintained by the City’s Department of Planning and Development.

We hope to see you there!

Important Development in POP Lawsuit

Protect Our Parks has filed a new motion in its on-going lawsuit against the City and Park District documenting the fact that the Park District’s premature track/field work has a direct connection with and was necessitated by plans for the OPC. The Sun-Times has a good piece about the action.  The POP motion points out that the Plan Commission resolution of approval for the track relocation required the Park District to wait until the federal reviews were complete before beginning construction, another important fact that the City and Park District have ignored.

Your support needed!

As the above notes make clear, the federal review of the proposed siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park and the related road changes is on-going.  We continue to be engaged in regulatory and legal consultations, and your financial support helps ensure we have the expertise we need.  Please send a donation check to Jackson Park Watch at P. O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615.

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