Jackson Park Watch Update – July 12, 2019

Greetings, all!


Protect Our Parks has announced that noted legal scholar Richard Epstein will lead its appeal of the June 11 decision by Judge John R. Blakey to dismiss POP’s lawsuit contesting the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.   Epstein, an emeritus professor at the University of Chicago who also holds appointments at New York University and the Hoover Institution, had earlier submitted an amicus brief in support of the POP lawsuit.   Chicago lawyer Michael Rachlis, known for his work on land use questions, will serve as co-counsel.

A focus of the appeal will be the failure of the City and Park District to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities as trustees of a public asset in agreeing to give the Obama Foundation, a private entity, effective control of the Jackson Park site for a period of  99 years and a payment of $10 in a transaction that raises serious questions of insider favoritism and conflicts of interest.   By making that decision without full evaluation of the Jackson Park site or of the costs to Chicago taxpayers and without due consideration of alternatives, the City and Park District did not meet the applicable standards for diligence that is required in such a transaction.  Epstein more fully outlined his argument in an interview with the Hyde Park Herald,

The appeal, submitted to the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, will be heard by a panel of three judges.  The schedule for the review has not been set.  We will keep you apprised as information is available.


JPW was one of numerous organizations in the 5th and 20th wards invited to a July 10 meeting with Aldermen Leslie Hairston (5th) and Jeanette Taylor (20th) to discuss the proposed Community Benefits Ordinance, officially titled the  ”Obama CBA Residential Area Affordable Housing Pilot Ordinance.”  Hairston and Taylor plan to introduce the CBA Ordinance at the July 24 City Council meeting.  The draft ordinance focuses specifically on the issue of affordable housing and proposes  measures to prevent the displacement of current, long-term residents – homeowners and  renters alike – as a result of the impact of the construction of the Obama Presidential Center on the real estate market in an area within a two-mile radius of the OPC.  Most attendees were strongly supportive of the ordinance.  Some suggested ways to strengthen it and others, including the University of Chicago, raised concerns.    While recognizing that they are on a very tight schedule, Aldermen Hairston and Taylor indicated that more such meetings are likely in the near future.


Readers will remember that the twin federal reviews of the proposed Obama Presidential Center plans for Jackson Park have been on hold since last fall; readers will also remember that these reviews must be completed  before construction can begin.  (For details on the federal review process, see  the JPW web site.) 

While certain federal agencies (the National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration) have overall responsibility for the Section 106 historical review and the parallel National Environmental Policy Act review, these processes have been managed by the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development and Department of Transportation thus far.  There have been recent reports that the next step in the Section 106 process –  the release of the so-called Assessment of Effects (“AOE”) draft report and related public meetings – will occur before the end of  summer, but no specific date is yet set.  The AOE report would present a draft analysis of adverse impacts of the planned OPC development on historic Jackson Park.  Once the report is released consulting parties and others will have 30 days to scrutinize the draft and  submit commentary, critiques, and proposed revisions.  This presents the consulting parties – including JPW – with the opportunity to argue for changes to the current OPC design that would have less adverse impacts on the existing historic parkland.

We note that Michael Rachlis, who will serve as co-counsel for the Protect Our Parks appeal,  has been and will continue to serve as JPW’s legal counsel with regard to the federal reviews and other technical matters.

We will keep you posted.


As always, we welcome your contributions.  You can donate in three ways:

  • You can contribute via PayPal here.
  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent to directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602, ATTN fiscal sponsor program manager.  Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

As always, we thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch




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