Jackson Park Watch Update – September 20, 2019

Greetings, all!

Section 106 review process pushed back

In our September 7 Update we reported that a new consulting party meeting had been scheduled as a webinar session for Monday, September 23.  The meeting was to discuss comments on the draft AOE (Assessment of Effects) report. The schedule announced at that time indicated that, following the webinar session, the City and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) would prepare a final AOE report and make it available to consulting parties for an additional 30-day review period.   Consulting parties’ concerns and disagreements with the proposed final report would then be resolved via discussions with the FHWA or, if those discussions were unsuccessful, by review by  the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP).  Once all disagreements about the text of the AOE report were resolved, the review process would then move on to discussions of how to resolve adverse effects.  

On September 18, consulting parties received another message from Abby Monroe, the City’s overseer of the Section 106 review, saying that the September 23 meeting has been pushed back to October 23.  Veterans of the Section 106 review process suggest that the substantial requests for additional relevant information from the City as set out in the 8/22 letter from the ACHP have resulted in this delay.  As always, we will keep you posted.

What is the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation?

We remind Update readers that the ACHP was created in 1966 as part of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) to ensure that federal agencies would comply with the law’s provisions intended to preserve our nation’s historic and cultural heritage.

If conflicts over historic preservation have not drawn significant public attention in recent years, it is in part because the processes and protections established by the NHPA were in place.  The Section 106 review now underway, including the AOE report, is one such process. 

The National Register of Historic Places was also established by the NHPA.  There are over 350 places in Chicago included on the National Register today, including 93 on Chicago’s South Side.  These range from parks to churches to hotels to homes, commercial buildings, and in fact entire neighborhoods.  Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance are on the National Register, as are Washington Park and the South Shore Cultural Center. 

Inclusion on the National Register does not prevent change, but, when federal funding or actions are involved, does require careful consideration of proposed changes and examination of alternatives that will have fewer adverse impacts on the historic property.

MPAC sends letter concerning historic landmark status

Amid continuing discussions about the section of the draft AOE report that outlined the City’s desire to take the east end of the Midway Plaisance for replacement parkland, the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council voted at its September 11 meeting to submit a one-sentence statement to the City and federal agencies involved in the Section 106 review:  “Any changes that happen to the Midway Plaisance, we want to be sure that the Midway will not lose or come close to losing its listing on the National Register of Historic Places.”  The letter was sent to the FHWA, National Park Service, ACHP, and the City.

Advocacy for Affordable Housing Ordinance and Community Benefits Agreement continues

To develop support for the proposed Affordable Housing Ordinance (one major goal of the CBA initiative) now before City Council, the CBA Coalition recently took Alderman Harry Osterman,  chair of the Council’s Housing and Real Estate Committee, on a trolley tour of Woodlawn.  20th Ward Alderman Jeanette Taylor stressed that displacement is a problem across the wards and the ordinance tied to the development of the Obama Presidential Center could be a model for addressing housing needs throughout the city.

Advocacy for the South Shore Nature Sanctuary

Even as Alderman Leslie Hairston stands by her assertion that the Nature Sanctuary is “dead,” local activist Anne Holcomb works to realize her vision of the area as the site for therapy and education. On Tuesday, September 17, she organized a field trip to the sanctuary for a group of homeless youth, bringing along a beekeeper and a naturalist to teach the group about the wildlife and plants found there.   That same evening Holcomb presented her plan to the Park District at its annual budget forum, noting that funds earmarked for the golf course expansion could be more productively directed to making South Shore a destination for nature programs. Superintendent Kelly made no response to the recommendation.

Millennium Park rule change highlights issue with non-public “parks”

News that a suit has been filed contesting restrictions on permitted activities in most parts of Millennium Park points to issues with “parks” not owned or operated by the Chicago Park District.  Despite its name, Millennium Park is not controlled or operated by the Chicago Park District.  Rules at Millennium Park are not decided by the Park District, nor can changes be appealed to the Park District Board.  Similarly, the Obama Presidential Center campus would not be owned or operated by the Chicago Park District. Instead, the OPC campus would be on City-owned land but controlled by the Obama Foundation, a private entity, which could enact restrictions virtually as it saw fit with no public accountability.


Thanks to all who have recently offered financial support.  As always, we welcome your contributions.  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


Jackson Park Watch Update – September 7, 2019


Greetings, all!

Assessment of Effects process moves ahead

The July 29 release of the draft Assessment of Effects (AOE)  prompted an outpouring of comments on the report continuing up to the August 30 deadline (see prior discussion in JPW’s Updates of August 8 and 16 at www.jacksonparkwatch.org, right-hand column ). Our own AOE comments and those of seven other organizations with whom we are in contact are posted on the JPW website.

Of particular significance was the comment by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) released on August 22 in a relatively unusual step.  It identified numerous shortcomings in the AOE and in the Section 106 process to date and indicated that additional data was needed – for example, an analysis of traffic diversions onto neighborhood roads, and an analysis of the visual impact of the 235’ Obama Museum Tower. The ACHP, an independent federal agency established as part of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, is the only entity with the legal responsibility to encourage Federal agencies to factor historic preservation objectives into Federal project requirements. It advises the President and Congress on national historic preservation policy. 

The next steps in the Section 106 review were announced on August 28 by the City’s liaison Abby Monroe in an email to consulting parties:

  • On September 23, there will be a follow-up consulting parties meeting via a webinar.  At that time the City – in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA, the lead federal agency), the National Park Service and the Illinois Dept. of Transportation –  will present a summary of comments received on the draft AOE, a description of how they will address the comments in the final version of the AOE report, and an outline of the process moving forward. 
  • Following the September 23 webinar session, the FHWA will finalize the AOE report and make it available to the consulting parties for another 30-day review period. (Exact schedule not yet determined.)
  • If within that further 30-day review period, the FHWA receives written notifications from the Illinois State Historical Preservation Officer or from any consulting party disagreeing with the findings of the proposed final AOE report and providing reasons for those disagreements, the FHWA will either consult directly with the party to resolve the disagreement or refer the issue to the ACHP.
  • Once all disagreements have been addressed, the FHWA will proceed to the next step in the process – resolving adverse effects via the required steps in priority order of avoidance, minimization, or mitigation.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation, one of the consulting parties to the Section 106 review, offered a pithy summary of  the Section 106 process for the OPC and of the importance of the process as a national policy.  

All told, it is clear that the Section 106 process is far from over and that the schedule the FHWA and City have previously outlined for the completion of the federal reviews overall is highly unlikely to be met. 

Is construction of the OPC really about to begin?

The Obama Foundation, eager to signal to its supporters and donors that plans for the OPC may be on track if not on schedule, announced last week that contractor bidding for work on the OPC will begin this fall.  The Lakeside Alliance formed to oversee the construction of the OPC unveiled the schedule at the 5th Ward meeting in August.  In keeping with the Obama Foundation’s continuing insistence that all is well and its plan is inevitable, it optimistically projected that if construction began in the spring, the project would be completed in 2023.  It is important to note, however, that while bidding may begin – and even be completed – no construction can start until the federal reviews are complete.  Further, if OPC plans are altered as a result of the federal reviews, which may be the case, construction bids might need to be redone.

A similar effort to project confidence was the announcement that a long-awaited renovation of the Metra station at 59th Street/60th Street would begin in 2020. A $2.5 million payment from the University of Chicago finally prodded Metra to act.   

Why “CBA now!”?

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago released this week a study that documents the recent increases in rents and housing values in the 2-mile-wide area around the proposed OPC and the extent to which displacement of lower-income residents is already underway.  The full report is available as an attachment to the Sun-Times summary article.  The findings support the need for passage of the Affordable Housing Ordinance now before the City Council that was introduced in August by Aldermen Jeanette Taylor and Leslie Hairston.  Commenting on the report, Taylor (20th Ward), a long-time champion of the CBA, has stressed the the urgent need for action and is pushing for adoption of the ordinance in October.

Protect Our Parks lawsuit appeal still moving forward

Update readers will remember that the Protect Our Parks legal team last month asked Federal Judge John R. Blakey to re-open the original case so that the new  information in the Section 106 Assessment of Effects report could be considered.  The City recently filed a response to the POP request, and the parties are now awaiting the judge’s decision on the issue.  POP’s appeal of Judge Blakey’s ruling in the original case is still in process.

More than just golf

One of the most controversial aspects of the proposed merger of the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses has been its plan to eliminate the Nature Sanctuary that hugs part of the lakefront at the South Shore Cultural Center.  In a recent letter to the Hyde Park Herald, Anne Holcomb, head of the neighborhood group E.T.H.O.S., offered a vision for what the Nature Sanctuary could be – a vision of parks with spaces for all.

City’s financial crisis requires hard decisions

Mayor Lightfoot’s announcement of a $838 million budget hole has rightly caught the attention of many people.  Some would argue that every City expenditure now should be carefully vetted to be sure it is essential. JPW suggests that proposed expenditures to close Cornell Drive and make otherwise unnecessary related expenditures to alter other area roads merit closer scrutiny, as do the extensive tax-payer funded changes required to merge the South Shore and Jackson Park golf courses.  We observe that the OPC could be sited in Jackson Park even if Cornell Drive were to be kept open, albeit with improvements to Cornell to slow traffic and improve pedestrian access.  We also note that the golf courses could and should be improved at far less expense to the public. 

Mayor Lightfoot has launched a survey asking people how they would prioritize City expenditures.  It also includes a chance to make open-ended comments on City spending. We recommend that you complete the survey.


Thanks to all who have recently made donations!  As always, we welcome your contributions.  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