Jackson Park Watch Update – July 30, 2020

Greetings, All,

Section 106 ending with a whimper

JPW had no expectations that the July 16 webinar run by the FHWA and the City as part of the Section 106 review would result in any substantive change in the trajectory to rubber stamp the proposed plan for the Obama Presidential Center, and those low expectations were fully realized.  

The draft Memorandum of Agreement  presented to consulting parties at the webinar does absolutely nothing to address the well-documented adverse effects on Jackson Park of the current plan for the OPC and the road changes it requires. It does nothing to preserve a central portion of Jackson Park as it has stood for over a century, defined by its Olmstedian vision of open spaces and natural areas. The Women’s Garden would be dismembered, and the distinctive Olmsted circulation pattern would be eradicated. There would be no provision for new parkland to replace the 19.3 acres that would be lost despite how much COVID has heightened our awareness of the importance of outdoor space and public parkland. Instead this improperly manipulated review has skipped over mandatory consideration of measures to avoid or minimize these adverse impacts, and recommends only meaningless “mitigation” steps that are in fact a slap in the face of those who treasure the Park as it is.  The Cultural Landscape Foundation  characterized the MOA terms as a swap of invaluable, historic  parkland for “signage” – abandoning the real for the virtual —  and highlighted, with disappointment, the unexplained decision by the  Illinois State Historical Preservation Office (SHPO) to endorse the draft MOA, in a complete reversal of its previous assessment.   

Comments on the draft MOA may be submitted until August 10.  Some additional, as yet undefined review of a final MOA will follow, but our expectations are again low. 

As previously stated, JPW will not be a signatory to the MOA as it now stands.  Beyond recognizing the gross inadequacies of the draft MOA, we have also come to recognize that the whole context for evaluation of the proposed OPC has now changed.

Time to rethink the plan for the OPC

Along with issues of transparency, survey ethics, openness to public input and badly flawed review procedures, the Section 106 process has failed because it is being conducted as if the social, cultural, and economic landscapes that existed when the OPC was first proposed six years ago are still intact. Chicago, along with the rest of the U.S., has been radically changed by the coronavirus, the Black Lives Matter protests, and the sudden onset of a severe economic recession. We don’t know what the future will look like, but we can be sure that it won’t look like it did in 2014. With that in mind, we strongly recommend that there be a fundamental rethinking of the entire OPC project in order to assure its full success.

Although we urgently hope that we will conquer the coronavirus sooner rather than later, we don’t know how the practices that we’ve all taken for granted will carry over into the future.  In particular, will large-scale tourism and packed public venues such as museums be common again? Remember, the large economic benefits that are attributed to the OPC depend upon the very optimistic attendance estimates prepared by the Obama Foundation’s consultants. The pandemic experience casts doubt that there would be 625,000-760,000 visitors annually (a projection that was already more than twice the attendance recorded at any other presidential library or museum over the past forty years). If more people explore the OPC digitally rather than in-person, the economic benefits are, by definition, reduced accordingly.

Most critically, the pandemic has exposed the crucial need for health and social services in Black communities around Chicago, and at the same time has delivered a body blow to the finances of both the City and its residents.  At a time when the City’s budget resources are stretched very thin and will be for the foreseeable future, should the City spend over $200 million to close Cornell Drive, reconfigure other roadways, and commit to the greater unquantified costs for environmental remediation and mitigation measures to accommodate the current plan for the OPC?  In a time of severe financial strain, when the City projects a $700 million deficit, attention should be given to identifying the significant expenses that could be minimized or avoided by rethinking the siting of the OPC.  Reducing the cost of the project by moving it could also accelerate the date by which the Center can open.

In addition to the new economic realities, the lockdowns undertaken during the pandemic have made all of us more aware of the critical value of our public parks as safe and essential spaces to explore natural settings and promote our individual and civic health. Given that new awareness, is it wise to sacrifice a core portion of Jackson Park, when we could have both the park and the OPC if its site were modified or moved? Mayor Lightfoot has called for new (and very needed) investments in underserved communities on the South and West Side. Preserving Jackson Park, by reducing the OPC footprint or rebuilding it on a non-parkland site will multiply the investment in our South Side communities. 

Beyond the immediate and lingering social and economic impact of the pandemic, the current OPC plan should be reassessed  also in the context of  the environmental changes that have now become so evident. Record high levels in Lake Michigan, with predictions of higher levels to come, call into question the practicality of removing Cornell Drive as a major traffic connector for the South Side and beyond.  In particular, the proposed expansion of Lake Shore Drive to accommodate the significantly increased traffic resulting from the closure of Cornell Drive would take place directly adjacent to the rising lake itself, raising the prospect of regular traffic disruptions as higher lake levels combine with the increased frequency of heavy storms.   Climate change does not seem to have been part of the assessment when the OPC roadway plans were developed; it must be considered now.  Similarly, the rising lake levels and the higher water table that follows in tandem have raised questions concerning the wisdom of constructing a massive 235’ museum tower and an underground parking garage immediately adjacent to the  West Lagoon in Jackson Park, originally itself a marshy area, or the feasibility of draining the wetland on the eastern tip of the Midway Plaisance.

Given the convergence of these new challenges – financial, social, environmental, we believe now is the time for a reevaluation of the current plan for the Obama Presidential Center, just as other development plans, private and public, are being reexamined in light of the current crises. The urgency of these challenges cannot be ignored.  The cost to demilitarize the police system, to strengthen the public schools, and to expand public health programs to eliminate racial injustices will be staggering, but it must be paid.  Similarly, the problem of lakefront erosion must be addressed without delay and before other investments can be made. Support for the OPC on the South Side is almost universal and community expectations are high.  But to fully realize those expectations, the City and the Obama Foundation must remove their blinkers and rethink the plan for the OPC within the context of this new era.

JPW Evolves

Given that the Section 106 federal review of the OPC is nearly at an end, and in keeping with her move to Michigan, Margaret  Schmid is stepping back from her active role in JPW.  As she does so, she wants to offer heartfelt thanks to all who have worked with and contributed to JPW in these recent years.  She of course will continue to follow further developments with great interest.

To try to fill Margaret’s big shoes, Ray Lodato and Jack Spicer have joined the JPW board of directors and will work with Brenda Nelms to monitor the many proposals for Jackson Park.  JPW’s guiding principles remain:

  • Transparency in decision-making about the Park – no backroom deals
  • Meaningful community input on major changes to the Park – no top-down decisions
  • Preservation of the Park as a democratic public space – priority to local uses and local users, with maximum grass, trees, and open space
  • Development of one comprehensive plan for the entire Park  – forestall its division into unrelated segments

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we will welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you.

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 Kevin Winters.  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 Jack Spicer
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch

www.jacksonparkwatch.org

jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

Jackson Park Watch Update – July 13, 2020

Greetings, all,

Dismal MOA signals end of Section 106 process

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has issued the long-delayed draft Memorandum of Agreement, the final step in the Section 106 (Historic Preservation) federal review of the impact on Jackson Park of the proposed Obama Presidential Center and related road changes.    

A Consulting Parties’ webinar to discuss the MOA will take place July 16.  The draft MOA has been posted on the City’s website so that, in addition to formal Consulting Parties, the public may review and submit comments during the comment period that will close on August 10. Unfortunately, but typically and tellingly, instructions for submitting comments have not been posted on the City’s website, so here is that information: Submit comments on the MOA to FHWA (Matt.Fuller@dot.gov) with a copy to the City of Chicago (todd.wyatt@cityofchicago.org).  Sadly, JPW sees no reason to believe that critical comments or questions will have any impact.

Although JPW had no hopes for the MOA given the FHWA’s practices to date, it is nonetheless striking that the proposed terms of the MOA signal the end of the defining form and feel of Jackson Park as it has stood for over a century.  Key portions of the circulation patterns designed by Frederick Law Olmsted will be destroyed.  The Women’s Garden will be dismembered.  The community will not be compensated with replacement parkland for the 19.3 acres of Jackson Park that will be occupied by the OPC for the next 99 years.  Hundreds of healthy mature trees will be clear cut.  And more.  JPW will not be signing off on the draft MOA.

JPW will send out a complete commentary and analysis after the webinar session.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we will welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you.

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 Kevin Winters.  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 

Jackson Park Watch

www.jacksonparkwatch.org

jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

Jackson Park Watch Update – June 22, 2020

Greetings, all!

The FHWA steamroller hits a bump

In our last Update we reported on the ongoing Section 106 review of the proposed changes to Jackson Park to accommodate the Obama Presidential Center.  We noted that the deeply flawed process seemed designed to ensure approval of the changes with only token and totally inadequate mitigation efforts to address the severe adverse effects of the OPC on the park. 

It was then a pleasant surprise on June 12 when the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) that is managing the review process notified consulting parties that the final meeting of the Section 106 review, originally scheduled for June 17, would be postponed for a full month, until July 16.  The FHWA’s explanation for the pushback cited the need to allow enough time for public review of the draft Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that was to be discussed at that final meeting. The FHWA did not explain, however, why the draft MOA was delayed nor set a date for its distribution to consulting parties.

A fuller explanation for the delay may lie with letters sent along with the FHWA message.  (The FHWA communication to consulting parties and letters referenced below are provided as attachments to this Update, as they are not posted on the City’s website.)

Most important is the May 26 letter sent to the FHWA by the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).   Saying “we believe our role is to protect cultural resources as part of the public planning process,” SHPO offered for the first time its list of what would be needed to properly address at least some of the adverse effects of the project on historic Jackson Park.  While falling short of what JPW and other consulting parties advocate, SHPO’s proposals for mitigation are nonetheless substantive and pointed.  In addition to supporting targeted archeological excavations and restoration of the Cheney-Goode Memorial, the Statue of the Republic, the English Comfort Station, and the Women’s Garden, SHPO also listed several major mitigation requirements under the header of Additional Design Review:

·         Shift the proposed OPC campus to the south to preserve the historic roadway connection between the Midway and Jackson Park and to avoid the demolition of the Women’s Garden.

·         The City’s proposed use of the east end of the Midway Plaisance as UPARR replacement parkland must meet the Standards for Rehabilitation as determined by SHPO.

·         The pedestrian path to replace Cornell Drive should reconstruct the Olmsted appearance in placement, cross section, surface, edges and plantings.

This is extremely significant.  The SHPO is a mandated signatory on the final MOA, and thus its opinion carries special weight.

It is also significant that, while repeating its formulaic response – “we have no authority” – the FHWA has in effect passed the buck to the City.  In a June 9 letter to Eleanor Gorski at the Department of Planning and Development, FHWA asked that  the City provide a written response to the suggestions “received from Section 106 consulting parties asking either (1) the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) be relocated outside of Jackson Park or (2) that the design of the OPC be modified to further minimize effects to historic properties.”     

We commend the SHPO for raising its voice. We can only imagine the behind-the-scenes discussions.  Until those conflicting positions can be resolved, we don’t expect to see a draft MOA.  As we have said many times, the saga continues.

Lake level rises and rises . . . .

In the meantime, as the Tribune has just spotlighted in a front-page article,  Lake Michigan is near its historic high water mark and is expected to continue to rise due to climate factors.  We note this because of the implications for two important components of the OPC plan.  First is the plan to rely on the widening of South Lake Shore Drive between 57th Drive and Hayes Drive/63rd Street to accommodate the significant amount of additional traffic that would result from the closure of Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd Streets. This portion of Lake Shore Drive will continue to be vulnerable to rising lake levels and storm damage.  Second is the plan to construct a 235’ tall tower (about 23 stories in height) and a substantial underground parking garage immediately adjacent to the West Lagoon in Jackson Park, where the water table level is rising in tandem with the lake level.  From a purely environmental and engineering point of view, we have to question the wisdom of persisting in these plans. 

What did the City poll actually find?

Readers will remember the on-line survey that the City conducted in mid-May, asking for suggestions about resolving the adverse effects that the OPC and road changes will have on Jackson Park.  It was no surprise to many that the City in effect suppressed the actual poll results, presenting only those that fit its narrow definition of the project.  JPW has asked the full results of the poll, to no avail.  We will now submit a FOIA request asking for that information.

Stay tuned.  As always, we will keep you posted.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we will welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you.

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 Kevin Winters.  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
Jackson Park Watch
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com
www.jacksonparkwatch.org

(to see attachments, contact jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com)

Jackson Park Watch Update – May 28, 2020

Greetings, all!

Last week saw two more important events in the on-going OPC saga:

·         the oral arguments on the Protect Our Parks lawsuit, and

·         the second consulting parties’ webinar as the FHWA rushes the Section 106 process to a seemingly preordained conclusion.

The Protect Our Parks lawsuit

Since the Protect Our Parks lawsuit was filed two years ago, JPW has continued to point to the significance of the public trust issue that is key to the lawsuit, along with the tightly related issues of fiduciary responsibility and responsible public stewardship.  POP appealed the initial dismissal of its case to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals last July, and oral arguments on the case were heard by a three-judge panel on Thursday, May 21.

A good (albeit somewhat lengthy) summary of the argument presented by Richard Epstein, the lead POP attorney in the appeal, can be found in Epstein’s own recounting of the issues in the suit and also in the related federal regulatory reviews now underway. Courthouse News Service also provided general coverage of the hearing.

Interestingly, the members of the appellate panel repeatedly returned to the question of jurisdiction, that is, why this case is in federal court.  Both POP and the City argued that the case is properly in federal court, something the City had never challenged. After the oral argument had adjourned, the panel asked both sides to submit additional briefs addressing the question of jurisdiction within two weeks.

FHWA steamroller advances

In the meantime, the FHWA’s rush to a judgement that seems destined to approve the OPC and related road changes with only token mitigation efforts continued with the second consulting parties’ webinar on Wednesday, May 20.  The webinar presented what were described as the results of the on-line “Mitigation Survey” that the City conducted over 5 days following the first webinar on May 6.  However, as JPW anticipated, significant portions of the survey results were simply suppressed.  Only those results deemed acceptable by the FHWA and City were presented for discussion on May 20; all others were dismissed, without any information whatsoever being provided about the total number of responses submitted or the full scope and details of the suggestions made. JPW sent a follow-up letter to FHWA decrying this suppression of public information (see attachment below, at end of Update) and demanding that there be full disclosure of all comments and suggestions for resolving the adverse effects on Jackson Park for the third and final webinar meeting on June 17.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation offered another review of the May 20 webinar and of the overall situation.

Where things stand: While the conduct of the Section 106 review remains troublesome to say the least and while there are disturbing signals about other federal reviews to come (see below), Jackson Park is still untouched and there are many steps still to be taken.  No construction can begin until all of the federal reviews are completed, and failure to conduct those reviews properly could result in further legal challenges.  The POP lawsuit continues, with the real prospect of further appeal. Meanwhile, the context in which the current OPC plan was developed has changed drastically.  Most immediately, there are uncertainties at every level about the impact of the pandemic on public and private finances alike; at the same time there are regular reminders that the effects of climate change, such as rising lake levels, cannot be ignored when it comes to lakefront development.   JPW will continue to track developments, make salient comments, and invite interested others to join in also. 

On other fronts

What is the “baseline”?  While most attention is on the Section 106 review, the FHWA steamroller is also moving forward on another front.  As Richard Epstein notes in his commentary linked above, the FHWA plans to circumvent what should be another key element of the federal review process, a required  4(f) review of  the impact of the proposed road changes on Jackson Park. It justifies this by making the absurd argument that the proper “baseline” for the review is the configuration of the Park AFTER the OPC is in place and all of the road changes have occurred, not the configuration of the Park today. For more information on the 4(f) requirement, see “What is a ‘4(f)’ review?” on the JPW website

What is a “legacy” park?    The Chicago Tribune has recently focused attention on the issue of public access to parks and open spaces during the pandemic. On its May 23 editorial page, it featured an op-ed by Ron Henderson, director of the Landscape Architecture and Urbanism Program at IIT.  Professor Henderson distinguished between the city’s legacy parks and the newer parks built in the 21st century, noting their differing values in an era of social distancing. 

 “The legacy parks were designed as places of healthy respite and for personal encounters with trees and water and birds. The new parks were built for other purposes: spectacles of art, social density, crowds and active recreation. These new parks are also about commerce and capitalism — parks that, especially under former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, were expected to be profit centers leveraged by concessions and tourism.”

JPW submitted a follow-up letter to the Tribune, so far unpublished, so we quote it here:

 “Jackson Park is one of Chicago’s foremost legacy parks, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 19th century to make spacious fields, tree-covered paths, local wildlife, and vistas of the lake available to all residents of the booming city.  It is ironic then that Jackson Park’s legacy status is today under threat by the proposal to build the Obama Presidential Center on 20 acres at its center.   When President Obama unveiled the plan for the OPC in May 2017, he said his aim was to create a Millennium Park-like experience on the South Side.  The current proposal for the OPC will indeed transform Jackson Park, ending the quietude and spaciousness that have long been treasured, just as those characteristics are proving their civic importance and value.   Such a loss is not necessary as the OPC could be reconfigured to have a less adverse effect on Jackson Park or could be constructed elsewhere on the South Side, with equal prominence and an equally positive impact on the surrounding communities.  We urge the City and the Obama Foundation to reconsider their plan.”

 

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we will welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you.

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 Kevin Winters.  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

Jackson Park Watch

www.jacksonparkwatch.org

jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

Attachment:  2020-05-25 JPW to FHWA

 (If you cannot open this document, contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will send it to you directly.)

Jackson Park Watch Update – May 19, 2020

Greetings, all!

Jackson Park as a Public Trust

As previously announced, the appeal by Protect Our Parks of its suit against the City is scheduled for a hearing on Thursday, May 21, at 9:30 am.   Due to the pandemic, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals will not hold in-person argument, but instead is conducting the argument via Zoom.   You can listen to a live audio stream of the hearing.

It is notable that the Chicago Tribune affirmed the special status and role of lakefront parks such as Jackson Park in its May 19 editorial that addressed Mayor Lightfoot’s restrictions on access to the lakefront during the pandemic.

The lakefront. It’s unique not only because it is one of the world’s great waterfront expanses curled alongside one of the world’s great cities. What also sets apart that expanse is that, because it is protected by what is legally known as the public trust doctrine, it belongs to the people, specifically the citizens of Illinois. It is everyone’s open space, backyard and front porch.

Letting the trees talk

A new spotlight is shining on the trees of the Jackson Park, some 800 of which are threatened by the plans for the Obama Presidential Center and its related road changes.  Meet the Trees  has launched an informational website about major species in the park and has begun featuring selected species in ads on bus-stop benches.  You can now meet the Silver Maple on the bench on 55th Street just west of University Avenue.


THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you. 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 Kevin Winters.  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

Jackson Park Watch

www.jacksonparkwatch.org

jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

Jackson Park Watch Update – May 14, 2020

Greetings, all!

City poll woefully inadequate

As noted in last week’s Update,  the FHWA/City announced that an on-line “poll” would be sent to Section 106 consulting parties to get feedback on the suggestions for resolving the adverse effects (whether labeled ‘mitigation’ or not) made before and during the May 6 webinar and to allow for the submission of new suggestions.   That announcement included the following:

Please share the poll with colleagues in your organization and any outside groups that have an interest in contributing to this process, including youth groups and others that are familiar with Jackson ParkWe encourage each consulting party to submit at least one mitigation suggestion and these will be compiled and noted at the 2nd consulting parties meeting. 

On May 13, the City sent a subsequent message with additional (and confusingly incomplete) instructions and the link to the Survey/Poll. The full message is provided below.

Prior to sending this out as suggested by the City, we of course checked out the survey.  Sadly, but not surprising at this point, it is limited, restrictive, does not repeat those “resolve adverse effects” suggestions that have been presented to date (such as the one JPW presented before and during the May 6 webinar), and does not facilitate the presentation of new and creative ideas.  Rather, it focuses on suggestions that are the equivalent of moving the deck chairs on the Titanic, all of which utterly fail to resolve the severe adverse effects of the OPC and related road changes on historic Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance.

Nonetheless, we encourage everyone to respond to the poll for the record.  However, we suggest that before starting the survey you have two or three phrases ready for the chance to volunteer your own thinking.  The survey starts by asking for zip code and then consulting party (there is a drop-down menu, you have to choose one).  Then there are four highly restrictive and limited choices for comment, but each one does also allow you to make an independent entry.  Note that the submission deadline is Monday, May 18, by noon.

Feel free to identify JPW as your consulting party, if you wish.  If you do so identify, please send a record of your suggestion to jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com.  We continue to have grave concerns about the Section 106 process, but we think public participation remains important.

_____________________________

City’s Message to Consulting Parties:

From: Todd Wyatt <todd.wyatt@cityofchicago.org>
Date: Wed, May 13, 2020 at 12:43 PM
Subject: Survey and Reference Materials for Jackson Park Sec 106 Consultation
To: Todd Wyatt <todd.wyatt@cityofchicago.org>
Cc: DPD <dpd@cityofchicago.org>

Good morning Consulting Parties,

As a follow-up to our meeting on May 6, 2020, the project team invites you to participate in a SURVEY (ctrl+click) designed to collect feedback on mitigation examples, and to receive your new mitigation ideas. Please complete the survey by noon on Monday, May 18th. Your input will be analyzed and incorporate into the next meeting on May 20, 2020 (9:30am – 11:30am). 

Please reference the meeting materials from our May 6th meeting which provide useful educational information on mitigation. These materials can be found on the project’s web page (ctrl+click).

Additionally, the project team has prepared a response (attached) to the relevant questions and comments received from the chat box during the May 6th meeting.

Thank you for your continued participation in this project, and we look forward to reviewing your input at our next meeting on May 20th. Please register if you haven’t do so already. Please contact me with any questions.


THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  As always, we welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you. 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 Kevin Winters.  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

Jackson Park Watch

www.jacksonparkwatch.org

jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

Jackson Park Watch Update – May 9, 2020

JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE – May 9, 2020

Greetings, all!

In our last Update (April 19), we pointed out that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has been in high gear, issuing bureaucratic, misleading, confusing, and arcane documents, and scheduling a blizzard of Section 106 meetings, all in a seeming effort to move toward approvals of the proposed Obama Presidential Center and its related road changes as soon as possible. This FHWA drive continues.  In this Update we present some key points.

Accelerating the Section 106 review

In January the FHWA presented the “final” Assessment of Effects (AOE), which documented yet again that the planned construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) along with the related road changes would have severe adverse effects on Jackson Park and the Midway as well as on the Chicago Park Boulevard System. Consulting parties were given until mid-March to submit comments, and many including JPW did so, raising a large number of questions and objections.

In April, having dismissed all but one of these questions and objections without explanation, FHWA made one small alteration, pronounced the AOE final and announced plans to move on to the next stage, resolution of adverse effects, with a series of rapid-fire webinar meetings focused on “mitigation.”

JPW and others questioned the focus on “mitigation,” which by regulation should be considered only after avoidance and minimization measures. We also protested the use of the webinar format, which is unsuitable for actual consultation and legitimate discussion. An additional concern is that the use of an online format limits participation to those with internet access and technical skills, thus shutting out a part of the relevant community.  As has become typical, FHWA responded with a confusing explanation of its definition of mitigation, stating that avoidance and minimization can also be included under that label.  It also insisted that the webinar format is well suited for its purposes. 

The first of these webinar events took place on Wednesday, May 6, and the presentation and initial raw transcript are on the City’s website.  Note the continued use of the single term “mitigation” throughout by FHWA and other staff, despite occasional indications that all of the proposals to resolve the adverse effects, regardless of category, would be considered. 

With agreement by Matt Fuller prior to the webinar, JPW submitted a multi-part proposal for resolving the adverse effects to Jackson Park and the Midway.  We were able to outline the proposal briefly during the webinar itself. Our proposal is provided as an attachment to this Update.

In a new and important development, considerable attention was paid during the webinar to whether FHWA is obliged to approve the use of federal highway funds for implementing the City/Obama Foundation proposal to close Cornell Drive and make the myriad additional related road changes.  By extension, the same question was raised as to whether the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the National Park Service are required to agree to the requests concerning changes to the GLFER project and the City’s location of replacement parkland on the east end of the Midway Plaisance park.  This issue of the scope of federal authority moves the discussion beyond the FHWA assertion that it cannot evaluate “City Action” and will continue to be pursued.

Next steps?  The City is preparing an on-line “poll” to be sent to consulting parties to get feedback on the suggestions for resolving the adverse effects (whether labeled ‘mitigation’ or not) made before and during the webinar and to allow for the submission of new suggestions.  Consulting parties are encouraged to circulate the link widely so that anyone who has an interest in contributing to this process can do so.  JPW will send out information about the link to the poll as soon as it is available.

We encourage everyone to respond to the poll and submit one or more suggestions for resolving the adverse effects.  Think big and broadly.  Do not worry about whether to label your suggestion “mitigation” or not – you may want to label it a “resolve adverse effects” proposal. Suggestions for resolving adverse effects that you might want to consider making include: withdraw the attempt take the east end of the Midway Plaisance for “replacement parkland”; keep Cornell Drive open between 59th and 63rd streets albeit with traffic calming measures and improved pedestrian and bicyclist access; find legitimate replacement parkland equaling 19.3 acres in Woodlawn and/or South Shore; keep the Midway Plaisance roadway open between Stony Island Avenue and Cornell Drive; save the existing Women’s Garden and improve access via replacement of steps with ramps; move the OPC tower and building complex out of Jackson Park; site the OPC in Jackson Park but redesign the OPC tower to be more harmonious with the Olmsted design of the park and to eliminate visual competition with the Museum of Science and Industry.

USACE GLFER request comment deadline extended

In the April 19 Update, we reported on the “stealth” public notice from USACE asking for comments on a request that it agree to changes in the just completed GLFER project in order to accommodate the construction of the OPC. As noted, we had objected to the lack of legitimate public notice and the short comment period. To its credit, USACE quickly agreed to reissue the public notice and to extend the deadline for public comment until May 15.

As a result, there is still time to submit comments if you are interested.  We encourage you to do so; instructions for submissions are in the notice. The comment that JPW submitted is attached below.   We note that the USACE is not automatically required to agree to the request from the City and Park District.

And yet another federal review – 4(f) evaluation rushed forward

Two full years ago, FHWA submitted the highly controversial first draft of its “4(f)” review of proposed roadway changes to Jackson Park.  It asserted that a proper review of alternatives to the closure of Cornell Drive did not need to take place because the proper ‘baseline” for the review is the post-construction condition of the area – after Cornell has been removed – not the current condition.

Now the FHWA has posted, without announcement, another version of its 4(f) report with a deadline of June 8 for review and comments.

We will comment on this complex issue at length in a subsequent Update, but do want you to know the full extent of the high-pressure campaign the FHWA is now mounting.

Protect Our Parks appeal to be heard May 21

On another front, the Appeals Court hearing for the POP lawsuit contesting the City’s transfer of land in Jackson Park for the OPC is set for May 21, as was previously announced.  However, the format of the hearing has been changed to a Zoom meeting. Reportedly, the session will be live-streamed or recorded for general viewing on YouTube, and we will share details as they are available.  

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have supported us financially.  With this recent FHWA speed up, we will require additional financial support for the outside expert resources we need to continue our work.   We will welcome your contributions.  If you have any questions about contributing, please contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will get back to you. 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 Kevin Winters.  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

Jackson Park Watch

www.jacksonparkwatch.org

jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

(To be removed from this e-mailing list, simply respond with “please remove my name.”)

Attachments: 

JPW proposal for resolving Section 106 adverse effects

JPW comments on USACE Public Notice 19-17 Jackson Park

(If you cannot open one or both of these attached documents, contact us at jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com and we will send them to you directly.)

Jackson Park Watch Update – April 19, 2020

Greetings, all!

  • FHWA continues push to move OPC/road changes forward
  • USACE “public” notice yields new opportunity for public comment

FHWA, USACE push ahead

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has now been joined by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in issuing bureaucratic, misleading, confusing, and arcane documents, all in a seeming effort to move toward approvals of the proposed Obama Presidential Center and its related road changes as soon as possible.

FHWA illegally attempts to skip to mitigation

On April 14 the FHWA informed consulting parties for the Section 106 review that the Assessment of Effects (AOE) report issued in January was now considered final, and that the next step in the process would be “to resolve the identified adverse effect to historic properties.”  However, its announcement pointed only to upcoming “mitigation” discussions, attempting to entirely skip the first and second legally prescribed options for consideration – avoidance and minimization.  JPW is writing to protest this FHWA maneuver.

The FHWA also announced plans to hold three consulting party meetings, beginning in early May.  FHWA proposes to hold the meetings in a webinar format, similar to the January meeting that proved so awkward and unsatisfactory.  Those who participated in that session will recall that it was a lecture-style presentation with little opportunity for questions and no opportunity for actual discussion and dialogue.  JPW is writing also to object to the proposed meeting format, highlighting the unsuitability of the webinar format for genuine consultation, and has proposed alternatives.   

USACE “public” notice

While some predicted that the USACE would have to be involved in approving the OPC given its jurisdiction over federally involved waterways and in particular its leading role in the just completed GLFER environmental restoration project in Jackson Park, it was only in the January AOE report that its role was formally acknowledged.   Now the requirement that it grant key permits to allow the OPC to proceed has come suddenly to the forefront.

On April 1 USACE issued “Public Notice/Application 19-17 Jackson Park” stating that the Chicago Park District has requested permits to destroy and “replace” elements of the recently completed GLFER project and asking for public comment by April 29.  The catch: it is only because a friend of a friend who monitors USACE on Facebook that we and other consulting parties became aware of this notice/request for comments.  It was not sent to us or any other consulting party that we know of; it is not on the prominent Public Notice section of the USACE website; it is not on the City’s website devoted to the federal reviews of the OPC; it is not on the Chicago Park District website – a stealth “public” notice indeed. It can only be found buried deeply on the “Civil Works Projects” list of the USACE website.

Consulting parties to weigh in

We and other consulting parties have taken a thorough look at the USACE notice and have found it wanting in several key ways.  For one, the analysis which is offers is extremely limited and partial.  It proceeds as if the carefully planned GLFER plantings of grasses, shrubs, trees, and other vegetation is a cookie-cutter assemblage that can be picked up and dropped somewhere else without regard to environmental context.  While acknowledging the major changes that the OPC/road changes would make in the immediate area of the GLFER project – on and around Wooded Island, along Lake Shore Drive between 59th and 62rd streets, on Hayes Drive especially in the vicinity of the Hayes Drive bridge – the USACE notice fails to give any consideration whatsoever to potential adverse impacts of these major changes on the completed GLFER areas.  It does not acknowledge rising lake levels that have occurred since the GLFER plans were drawn up.  It does not address Obama Foundation plans to direct storm water gathered on the OPC site into the west lagoon.  It does not acknowledge the destruction of the carefully planned berms along the west side of South Lake Shore Drive.

You can weigh in too – April 29 deadline

The USACE notice solicits public comments on the proposed modification of the GLFER project to accommodate the OPC and road changes.  We urge you to read the notice, think about the 5-year, $6.9 million GLFER project, and submit your comments on the proposed alterations by April 29.  Addresses — for both regular mail and electronic mail — are provided in the notice.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

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 Kevin Winters.  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
Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

Jackson Park Watch Update – April 10, 2020

Greetings, all!

We hope you are all safe and well in this unsettling time.  

While the personal and public threat and demands of the coronavirus pandemic are rightly everyone’s primary focus now, there are ongoing actions relating to the OPC proposals for Jackson Park that should not be ignored.  We provide here updates on some recent developments.

First, it is worth mulling over the impact of the pandemic, immediately and for the future, on the proposals for the Park.  A recent article in Crain’s entitled “Can big development plans survive the virus?” addressed the impact of the virus on commercial development plans, such as the 78 and Lincoln Yards.  While the real estate developers remain predictably optimistic at the moment, economic and business analysts conclude that the duration of the downturn is not yet known and the trajectory for overall economic recovery cannot yet be predicted.  In this era of uncertainty and competing demands for resources, projects that are dependent on private donations — such the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) or the golf course merger — are particularly vulnerable.  Likewise, both projects require commitments of public funds that may now have to reevaluated.

Against that backdrop, here is what’s happened in the past month.

Hearing Scheduled for POP Lawsuit

On March 19 the legal team for Protect Our Parks filed its final brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, arguing that the City and Park District violated their fiduciary duties as public trustees by approving the construction of the OPC in Jackson Park as they did.  They argued additionally that the District Court was mistaken in its refusal to take into consideration the determination of the OPC’s adverse effect on the Park that was first documented in the July 2019 Assessment of Effects (AOE) report as part of the federal Section 106 review of the project. 

The Appeals Court granted POP’s request for an oral argument, as reported in the Hyde Park Herald.   The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on May 21 at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.  Each side will have 20 minutes to present its case.   At present, it is expected that the hearing will be a regular, in-person, open presentation before a panel of three judges (who will not be known in advance).  It remains to be seen whether public health concerns will cause delay or require a shift to remote, video presentations.

A Side Step in the Section 106 Review

As noted in our last Update, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued a “final” AOE in mid-January, giving consulting parties until mid-February to submit further comments.  In those further comments, JPW and numerous other consulting parties raised significant concerns about omissions and inconsistencies in the report’s findings, including those relating to other historic properties in the area.  They also raised strong objections to the report’s continued insistence that the proposal for the OPC itself was beyond the FHWA’s review authority. 

On March 17, as had been requested, the FHWA submitted a detailed report to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) on the FHWA’s responses to the objection letters it had received.  The FHWA report sent to the ACHP first responds in detail to the specific concerns raised by the ACHP.  It then includes the more than 30 statements by consulting parties and individuals and a table of the FHWA’s response to each objection.  Basically, the FHWA issued a uniform refusal to consider the many issues raised, summarily dismissing them all.

The FHWA requested an advisory ruling by the ACHP on one particular question, raised by The Cultural Landscape Foundation, as to whether the Jackson Park Terrace Historic District (the residential complex that lies directly across Stony Island Avenue from the proposed OPC site) would be adversely affected by the OPC.  JPW and other groups submitted statements to ACHP in support of the TCLF challenge.  At the same time, importantly, one consulting party asked for the regulatory basis for the FHWA’s refusal to respond to the voluminous and thoughtful additional comments and questions.

On April 1, the ACHP responded to the FHWA and agreed with its finding of “no adverse effect” by the OPC on the Jackson Park Terrace Historic District.  However, the ACHP also stated that it would be appropriate for the FHWA to acknowledge and facilitate further consultation on the many other questions raised about other historic properties and to clarify whether those concerns may be addressed during the upcoming resolution process of the Section 106 review or better addressed during the NEPA review.  This ACHP response has not yet been posted on the City’s website as of today. 

The next step in the Section 106 review will be for the FHWA to set a schedule and outline a process to consult “with consulting parties to develop and evaluate alternatives or modifications to the undertaking that could avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects on the historic properties.”   When and how that will or can be done in the midst of the pandemic restrictions is unknown.  Whether the FHWA will show any willingness to engage in substantive dialogue and creative dispute resolution is also unknown.

JPW Evolves

As the federal review process has evolved, so has JPW.  This month, Margaret, co-founder and co-president of JPW, has relocated to Ann Arbor MI to be closer to her family, a long-anticipated move.  Given the nature of the foreseeable work and ready access via the internet and phone, she will continue to participate fully in the Section 106 review and the other federal reviews to follow.  To accommodate the new geographic reality, Margaret will assume the position of PW vice-president.  Brenda will continue as JPW’s president and on-the-ground presence, focusing not only on the federal reviews of the OPC and associated road changes, but also on closely related issues such as the proposed expansion and merger of the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses and the battle to save the Nature Sanctuary at the South Shore Cultural Center.  It goes without saying (but we will) that JPW will continue to be an active participant in the debate on the future of Jackson Park.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who offer 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 Kevin Winters.  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
Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

Jackson Park Watch Update – February 23, 2020

Greetings, all!

“Final” AOE attracts even more criticism

JPW Update readers are well aware that the Assessment of Effects (AOE) report is a key part of the federal Section 106 review of the impact that the plans for the Obama Presidential Center along with its required road changes would have on historic Jackson Park. 

The initial draft AOE released July 29 seemed a bit schizophrenic: in places it documented significant adverse effects on Jackson Park while also arguing in other portions of the report that the impacts were negligible.  The second version of the AOE (labeled “Final”), released January 16, was even more inconsistent and more jarring, coupling clear documentation of adverse effects with a forceful assertion of a flawed analytical framework that would render not only the Section 106 process but also the required NEPA and 4(f) reviews virtually meaningless. 

  • Specifically, the “final” AOE asserts that any impacts of closing Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd Streets and of removing the segment of the Midway Plaisance between Stony Island and Cornell Drive as well as any impacts of the construction of the OPC are exempt from the requirement to consider ways to avoid or minimize those impacts.
  • Further, it asserts that the proper baseline for the limited review it does propose is the post-construction condition of the park and neighborhoods, not the condition today.

Once again, JPW and other consulting parties have responded with careful, thoughtful commentary and critiques, posted on the JPW website.    Themes running throughout the critiques include:

  • Analyses showing that the AOE analytical framework is contrary to the National Historic Preservation Act, flies in the fact of the inextricable ties between so-called “City” actions and “Federal” actions, and, akin to efforts of the current administration to gravely weaken environmental protections, would set a threatening precedent for further historical protection efforts;
  • Consistent questioning and criticisms of the City’s assertions that UPARR replacement parkland should be located on the east end of the Midway Plaisance, already itself parkland listed on the National Register of Historic Places;
  • Criticisms of the plan to destroy the Women’s Garden, use the area as a construction staging ground, and then build a scaled down altered green space without the perennial border and trees;
  • Pointed questions as to why the proposal to merge and expand the existing golf course is not included in the present Section 106 review when the proposals to close Marquette Drive and construct several underpasses, infrastructure work directly related to the golf project, are themselves included.

What comes next?

The National Historic Preservation Act requires that the lead Federal agency, the FHWA, “consults with consulting parties to develop and evaluate alternatives or modifications to the undertaking that could avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse effects on the historic properties” (36 CFR § 800.6 (a)).

In that regard, we note that on February 21 the City sent the following statement to the consulting parties: “FHWA is reviewing the comments received, which included objections to findings of effect contained in the AOE, and evaluating those objections to determine how to proceed. As described in 36 CFR 800.5(c)(2), FHWA may either consult with the objecting party to resolve the disagreement or request the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation to review the finding and provide its written opinion to FHWA. FHWA will ensure documentation is prepared to address comments received and the documentation will include copies of all comments received on the final AOE.” We will see what happens.

In the meantime, construction of the OPC and work on the road changes remain on hold. As always, we will keep you posted.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who have recently offered financial support.  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 Kevin Winters.  Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

Once again, we thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch

www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch