There is action on many fronts! See below for news on:
- The Assessment of
Effects (AOE) report
- Be sure to look at what you can do;
- The golf course proposal and the Nature Sanctuary;
- The Protect Our Parks legal appeal.
More on the Assessment of Effects (AOE) report
We remind readers that the stated purpose of the entire federally mandated Section 106 historic review process is preservation of historic places and identification of threats to them. This well-established process, dating back to the 1960s when the construction of the federal highway system endangered multiple historic places, includes clear review criterion and procedural requirements.
Key contents of the AOE:
As was widely noted when it was first released, the draft AOE report correctly concludes that the plans to construct the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park along with the related road changes will have clear, significant adverse effects on the historic park.
However, the AOE incorrectly argues that there will be no adverse effects on historic properties or historic districts in the near neighborhoods. The AOE comes to this conclusion using two erroneous and incomplete sets of data.
- It relies on the traffic study CDOT used in developing its plans to accommodate the OPC design by closing Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd streets, closing the eastbound Midway Plaisance, and making other massive road changes. Among other short-comings, that study failed to do a thorough analysis of where traffic would be diverted as a result – for example, onto 67th street or other side streets through Hyde Park and South Shore. (See JPW’s independent traffic study for discussion of those issues.)
- It fails completely to include an above-ground-level analysis of the visual impact of the Obama museum tower on the area, arguing that, despite the ready availability of inexpensive technology to do such a review, the City does not have the relevant technology.
In addition, the section of the AOE report on recreation and UPARR replacement parkland is misleading and incomplete. In proposing to take over the 5.2 acres at the east end of the Midway Plaisance for replacement parkland, replete with a fenced in playground, the City is for the first time apparently conceding that more than just one acre of replacement parkland is required to balance the loss of the 19.3 acres of public park that would be handed over to the OPC. However, this proposed use of the Midway space would do nothing to provide parkland in the park-poor Woodlawn or South Shore. It is opposed by the Midway Park Advisory Council. The Midway is itself on the National Register of Historic Places; “replacing” historic parkland with historic parkland makes little sense. The National Park Service, whose approval is required, has not signed off on either the amount of replacement parkland that will be needed or the proposed site.
Problems compounded by August 5 meetings
The problems with process throughout the development of the plans for the OPC and road changes are well known – staged and manipulated public meetings being central to them. The August 5 meetings held to review the AOE report, required by the federal process, unfortunately provided a rerun of the severe shortcomings in how the City managed the process under former Mayor Emanuel. As reported in the Sun-Times and Crain’s, JPW joined with other concerned organizations to point out to Mayor Lightfoot the contrast between the continued use of such ham-handed tactics and her administration’s commitment to transparency, accountability, and community input, urging her to provide leadership in forging a resolution that will facilitate both the construction of the OPC on the South Side and the preservation of historic Jackson Park.
What you can do
The next federally mandated steps in the Section 106 process require consideration of ways to avoid, minimize, or mitigate the adverse effects of the OPC and road plans on Jackson Park. What do you think should be done and why? The federal review process requires accepting and considering public comments on these issues. Your comments would become part of the record in the case, which is far from over.
Attempting micro-definitions of “avoidance” or “minimization” as opposed to “mitigation” is not useful here. But some examples might help: moving the OPC to another location outside of Jackson Park a very clear example of “avoidance.” Keeping Cornell open (albeit with fewer lanes, traffic calming, and pedestrian enhancements), keeping the eastbound segment of Midway Plaisance open, dramatically “right-sizing” the Obama tower, and saving the maximum number of healthy mature trees would constitute examples of “minimization.”
The draft AOE report includes a section arguing implausibly that the OPC design itself already constitutes “minimization,” and that thus only “mitigation” is appropriate now. Comments by City and highway agency representatives at the August 5 meetings showed that they think appropriate mitigation would be such things as taking photos, counting trees to be cut, and creating an archival record of the Park as it looks today before the current site is in effect destroyed.
JPW and many others are deeply concerned about this approach, which, if executed, would not only spell the end of a significant portion of historic Jackson Park and presumably the end to its listing on the National Register, but would set a precedent that would threaten the integrity and functioning of the Section 106 process itself.
We urge you to send your suggestions about what can and should be done to address the causes of the adverse effects documented in the AOE report You can also comment on specific findings of the draft report if you see gaps or mistakes that should be corrected for the final version. In addition to the text of the report, linked above, the appendices and the presentation slides from August 5 are available on the City’s website.
Send your comments by August 30 to the designated recipient: Abby Monroe at the City’s Department of Planning and Development, Abby.Monroe@cityofchicago.org, and to the other lead personnel: Matt Fuller for FHWA at firstname.lastname@example.org; Lee Tersiz for the NPS at email@example.com; Nate Roseberry for CDOT at firstname.lastname@example.org; Heather Gleason for the Park District at email@example.com; and Brad Koldehoff for IDOT at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please also share your comments with key City decision-makers:
Mayor Lori Lightfoot email@example.com
Chief of Staff Maurice Classen firstname.lastname@example.org
Deputy Mayor for Economic and Neighborhood Development Samir Mayekar Samir.Mayekar@cityofchicago.org
Chief Engagement Officer Juan Carlos Linares Juan.Linares@cityofchicago.org
Chief Equity Officer Candace Moore email@example.com
Golf course in the news – again
News reports in June indicated that proponents of the Tiger Woods-designed golf course expansion/merger in Jackson Park and South Shore planned to use Woods’ presence in the area this week for the BMW Championship at Medinah Country Club to help market the plan. Among those proponents is Alderman Leslie Hairston. Described as gung-ho for the golf course project, Hairston told the Sun-Times she would like to take Mayor Lightfoot, a skeptic of the project, on a tour of the nature sanctuary at South Shore Cultural Center “because it’s actually all dead. And it’s been dead for some years.”
JPW and other advocates for the preservation of the nature sanctuary and other recreational and natural features that would be obliterated by the expanded golf course found this quite strange. A gorgeous photo of the sanctuary in full bloom, taken the morning of August 14 and totally disproving the Alderman’s description, was quickly posted on Twitter, shared by JPW with the Board of Commissioners of the Park District at its monthly meeting, and widely circulated in the Sun-Times and BlockClubChicago. We sincerely hope Alderman Hairston will indeed soon take the Mayor on a tour at South Shore so that they both can enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the space.
Protect Our Parks appeal and the AOE
The Protect Our Parks legal team, arguing that the information in the AOE report has a material impact on the POP lawsuit, has asked Federal Judge John R. Blakey to re-open the case so that the information in the AOE can be considered. The City’s response to that request, just filed on Thursday, ignores the substance of the AOE findings and argues that the report is not relevant. A hearing on these arguments has not yet been scheduled. We will keep you posted.
In the meantime, here is a recent comment by POP attorney Richard Epstein on the broader issues being argued in the POP suit.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!
Thanks as always to all who have recently offered financial support, support that enables us to retain expert legal counsel. You can contribute in three ways:
- 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 PayPal here.
- 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 Kyla Williams. 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