Jackson Park Watch Update – July 29, 2019

Greetings, all!


The City recently announced that the Section 106 review will resume on August 5 after a long hiatus. The August 5 meetings will consider the very important “Assessment of Effects” report (AOE), that has been released today, July 29.  The AOE report is now available on the City’s website in the box for July 29, 2019 under “Key Federal Review Milestones.”  

There will be two meetings on Monday, August 5, both at the University of Chicago Logan Center (915 E. 60th Street) and both covering the same material:

  • From 3 to 5 pm, representatives of the designated Consulting Parties will meet together with staff to allow ample time for questions and discussion.
  • From 6 to 8 pm, there will be a public meeting, open to all, in the first-floor theater

We hope that this new format will both allow more meaningful input from Consulting Parties and also a much better opportunity for genuine public input.

We urge you to put this meeting on your calendar and to plan to be there.  This will be the first public meeting related to the Obama Presidential Center since Mayor Lightfoot took office and your participation will send her and her administration an important message about the on-going public interest in this significant undertaking.

What is the “AOE” and why does it matter?

The AOE report is part of the review required by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act to assess the potentially adverse effects (if any) of the proposed Obama Presidential Center and related road changes on historic properties in Jackson Park and the near neighborhoods.  In fact, a key purpose of the Section 106 review is to “seek ways to avoid, minimize or mitigate any adverse effects on historic properties” [36 CFR 800.1(a)].

What is an “adverse effect”?

Technically, an adverse effect occurs when “an undertaking [i.e., the construction of the OPC, the execution of the proposed road changes] may alter, directly or indirectly, any of the characteristics of a historic property that qualify the property for inclusion in the National Register in a manner that would diminish the integrity of the property’s location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, or association” [36 CFR 800.5(a)(1)]. Some examples of adverse effects are altering a property in a way that changes “the character of the property’s use or physical features within the property’s setting that contribute to its historic significance,” or that introduce “visual, atmospheric or audible elements that diminish the integrity of the property’s significant historic features.”  Things that come to mind are, for example, eliminating all Olmsted landscape design features on the OPC site, closing Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd streets, and erecting a twenty-three story building in the park.

What kind of review will occur?

The draft AOE must be reviewed and commented on by the Consulting Parties to the Section 106 process (JPW is one) and by the general public.  These August 5 meetings will be a very important part of this review process.  The City and FHWA must consider all comments, questions, suggestions, and objections raised during these meetings.  There will also be a thirty-day period for written comments, questions, suggestions, and objections starting today, the day the AOE is made public. Written comments should be sent to Abby Monroe at the Department of Planning and Development, Abby.Monroe@cityofchicago.org. The deadline for submission of written comments will be August 30.  These, too, will have to be considered. 

What comes next?

The City and FHWA may (or may not) make changes to the draft AOE in light of the comments they receive.  Following this, there will be meetings between the City and FHWA on the one hand and the Consulting Parties on the other to attempt to reach agreement on “mitigation measures” to avoid, minimize, or lessen any adverse effects on Jackson Park and the near neighborhoods.  The results of the discussions will ultimately be put in the form of a Section 106 Memorandum of Agreement, which the City hopes will be final this fall.

What does JPW anticipate?

Based on the federal review processes to date, JPW is concerned that the draft AOE will understate the adverse effects of the OPC and road changes on Jackson Park and the near neighborhoods.  It is for that reason that we urge all interested parties to come to the public meeting on August 5 to make their views known and/or submit written comments by August 30.  After we have a chance to thoroughly review the AOE, we will send out a further Update identifying areas that we believe warrant particular comment.


On July 24, Aldermen Jeanette Taylor and Leslie Hairston, responding to strong constituent sentiment,  presented the Obama Center Community Benefits Housing Ordinance to City Council.  The ordinance aims to promote affordable housing and minimize residential displacement in a 2-mile radius of the proposed OPC site in Jackson Park. The ordinance will now go to the Committee on Housing and Real Estate for review and refinement, before being presented to the Council for approval.  Given the rampant property speculation already evident in Woodlawn, it is urgent that the ordinance be adopted quickly and without dilution.

While Mayor Lightfoot, who expressed support for the CBA initiative during her mayoral campaign, has yet to comment on the specifics of the draft ordinance,  Hairston and Taylor note that they have enlisted 38 other aldermen as co-sponsors.  They see this as a model for development-impacted areas around the city and also as the first step in addressing the larger goals of the Obama CBA Initiative, which also include education, employment, sustainability and transportation. There was useful coverage of the ordinance in the HeraldSun-Times, and Tribune.


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

  • You can contribute via PayPal here; you can choose to make your donation a monthly one.
  • 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.  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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