JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE – September 7, 2019
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.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT!
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