Jackson Park Watch UPdate – February 6, 2020

Greetings, all!

In this Update:

  • A look at that AOE webinar: the bad and the good
  • Time to suggest alternatives
  • The CBA, displacement, and affordable housing; Lake levels

What the AOE webinar told us

The January 23 consulting parties’ webinar – held to discuss the “final” AOE report – was a mixed bag, with a frustrating format but also some useful clarifications. Here are some takeaways:

·         Does a webinar replace a public meeting? – While a teleconference can be useful, it does not lend itself to productive discussion among a large number of participants (some 50 on Jan. 23).   There were communication problems throughout – imperfect audio reception, confusion about who was speaking, speakers talking over one another, an auto-transcription feature that provided a garbled version of what was being said during the session. We were told that a clean, corrected transcript of the session would be prepared by the FHWA, but that has not yet been made available. 

·         Who’s actually in charge of the Section 106 review? – An official of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation interjected at several points during the webinar to clarify issues of continuing confusion.  (To refresh your memory of the role of the ACHP, see JPW Update for September 20, 2019.) In response to questions about the City’s conflicting roles as both proponent and reviewer of the plans under assessment, she stressed the need for the responsible lead federal agency, the FHWA, to play its rightful role as manager of the overall review.  She emphasized the need for the FHWA to manage the process of resolving the adverse effects that have now been identified. 

·         What’s the proper scope of the Section 106 review? – The ACHP representative also emphasized that the “undertaking” for which adverse effects have been determined and now need to be resolved encompasses all of the proposed changes for Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance, including the City’s actions regarding the OPC and the related road closures. 

·         What is the process for resolving adverse effects? – The ACHP official noted that the standard process to resolve the adverse effects would require multiple meetings and significant interaction with consulting parties to consider options for avoidance, minimization and mitigation.

As context and background for all of this, we recommend a recent piece by The Cultural Landscape Foundation  that points to the policy issues and implications underlying the text of the “final AOE.”  We and others will be addressing a variety of outstanding issues in the next round of consulting party comments due February 18.

Time to suggest alternatives to OPC, road designs

The Section 106 process continues.  Construction of the OPC is not about to begin.  It is time to begin dialogue about alternatives to address the adverse effects that all – including the FHWA and the City – have agreed the current plans would cause.

Following the webinar, a  Sun-Times editorial heralded the need to consider alternatives to the current OPC and road designs:  “Anything less could lead to a design that spoils this jewel of a park rather than enhances it.”  JPW responded with a letter  identifying three major changes that are broadly supported in the community and would smooth the way for construction of the OPC to actually begin: “right-sizing” the museum tower, improving but not closing Cornell Drive; and locating generous parkland replacements in portions of Woodlawn, badly in need of park space. 

Some days later Mayor Lightfoot herself seemed to open the door to consideration of alternatives to the current designs in a Sun-Times interview.  

Your turn:  In light of this, JPW asks community members who support having the OPC on Chicago’s South Side – and, with appropriate major modifications, in Jackson Park – to communicate their thoughts about what changes are needed for that to happen to Mayor Lightfoot and her chief lieutenants on this project, Maurice Cox, head of the Department of Planning & Development, and Gia Biagi, head of CDOT. 

Possible talking points:

  1. As a community member, you may want to express your views on whether community input on the OPC site plans and road changes was appropriately considered under the prior administration.
  2. Express support for the OPC in South Chicago but also identify whatever key changes you think would be needed for it to be appropriate in Jackson Park.  (If you think it should be out of Jackson Park, say that also, but it would be very helpful to offer opinions about changes that could be make it more acceptable on the Jackson Park site.)
  3. Thank Mayor Lightfoot for her emphasis on the importance of community input and transparency and ask her to take the lead in ensuring that there is real community input and dialogue going forward on how to resolve the adverse effects of the OPC and road changes as currently planned on Jackson Park.

Please send your comments to the Mayor at lori.lightfoot@cityofchicago.org and letterforthemayor@cityofchicago.org ;  to  Maurice Cox at Maurice.Cox@cityofchicago.org ; and to Gia Biagi at Gia.Biagi@cityofchicago.org

The CBA, affordable housing, and avoiding displacement

While the controversy over the OPC and road plans continue, the controversy over the Community Benefits Ordinance and displacements of long-time Woodlawn residents continues as well and if anything has intensified.  To the disappointment of many, Mayor Lightfoot has not supported the basic CBA ordinance presented by Aldermen Jeanette Taylor and Leslie Hairston.  Instead, the City Department of Planning and Development has come up with an alternative plan that was outlined in a report released just hours before its presentation at a January 30 Open House.  The plan is getting mixed reviews and faces direct opposition by Alderman Taylor.

JPW continues to believe that the basic CBA principles have a great deal of merit and hopes for a positive ultimate resolution.

Lake levels

In the meantime, lake levels continue to rise with expanding damage to lakefront facilities and properties.  Some are questioning whether, all other considerations aside, it makes sense to close Cornell between 59th and 63rd Streets if South Lake Shore Drive may on occasion be closed due to flooded conditions.  We will continue to track this and will keep you posted.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks as always to all who have recently contributed to JPW.  As always, we welcome your support.  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

Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch

www.jacksonparkwatch.org

jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

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Jackson Park Watch Update – January 26, 2020

Greetings, all!

Reviewing the new AOE

This Update focuses on the content of the recently released revised Assessment of Effects report.  A subsequent Update will cover the Consulting Parties webinar that took place on January 23.

Overall, this new “Final” AOE report is defensive in tone and inconsistent in argument.  It accurately documents extensive adverse effects to the historic properties of Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance.  Yet, signaling Mayor Lightfoot’s apparent embrace of the Emanuel administration’s cavalier approach to these historic parks, it repeatedly asserts that nothing will or should be done to avoid or minimize any of those adverse effects.  However, numerous comments calling for more review and public process that were expressed in Thursday’s webinar make it clear that this saga is far from complete.

See below (# 6) for a guide to the AOE text and auxiliary documents.

1.  What does the new AOE have to say about adverse effects?  

As noted above, the new AOE further documents the extensive adverse effects that the plans for the OPC buildings and site and the related road changes would have on Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance. The expanded text and additional detail were provided in direct response to concerns expressed by the Advisory Council for Historic Preservation.   In this regard, see in particular Section 3.5, pp. 39-54.   A new section has been added (pp. 55-57, Section 3.6) documenting the adverse effects on Chicago Park Boulevard System, which includes Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance and is also on the National Register of Historic Places.

2. What does this “final” AOE continue to overlook?

The AOE is dismissive of numerous comments calling for better data. For example, on traffic issues, the AOE continues to assert that there will be no adverse effects on other historic properties or historic districts in the area (see pp. 58-67, Section 3.7). It asserts that impacts of increased traffic flow on auxiliary streets will be minimal, that fully satisfactory plans for parking are in place, and that the increases in traffic noise will be barely perceptible.  It ignores potential traffic impacts to roadways such as Jeffrey and South Shore Drive, vital to area traffic flow, let alone impacts to essential neighborhood streets such as Dorchester, Blackstone, and Harper. It also asserts that the visual impact of the OPC Tower on “other historic properties” will likewise be minimal.

3. What does the new AOE say about resolving these adverse impacts with avoidance, minimization, or, failing that, mitigation, as required by the NHPA?

The new AOE stakes out the position (p. 3) that “The City’s approval of the Foundation’s proposal to locate the OPC in Jackson Park is a local land use decision and is not subject to the Federal approval process, including mitigation.  The same is true of the roadway closures and the relocation of the track and field.”  

It also raises two new claims: First, that in working with the Obama Foundation on the OPC design and developing the road closures and other changes though the municipal review process (Plan Commission, City Council, South Lakefront Framework Plan), the City has already built in all needed avoidance, minimization and mitigation measures.  Second, the design of the OPC is “Olmstedian” despite all expert findings the contrary (pp 77-78).

As many JPW Update readers know, the OPC design was unveiled in May 2017 and CDOT’s road plans supporting that design were presented in June 2017, just as the Park District launched the South Lakefront Framework Plan process. In all the often-touted public meetings to follow, the plans for the OPC and roadwork were presented as final, and substantive comments on them were not solicited or collected.  There was absolutely no consideration of alternative designs. Instead, the public was asked to comment on plans for new walkways, bicycle paths, potential water features, and other amenities – all of interest, but none germane to OPC or OPC-related road changes.

The City’s position – a direct challenge to established National Historic Preservation Act protections and procedures – is repeated in more starkly in the concluding section:  “The actions of the City described in this report (authorizing construction of the OPC, closing roads, and relocating an existing track and field in Jackson Park) do not require Federal funding or approval and, therefore, are not subject to the NHPA’s requirement to consider avoidance, minimization, and mitigation of adverse effects to historic properties” (p. 75, emphasis added). 

In other words, the Lightfoot administration has fully embraced the Rahm Emanuel approach and gone beyond.  Emanuel advocated for the destructive transformation of the historic OPC site before the significant adverse effects were well documented and broadly known.  For the Lightfoot administration to continue to advocate for the 23-story tower and destruction of the Olmsted roadway design now that these adverse effects are fully documented can only be seen as a doubling-down.

4. What does the new AOE say about dialogue and discussion of alternative ways of addressing these adverse impacts?

Nothing. To the contrary, the whole Section 106 process has been abbreviated.  The City had previously announced in the fall that it would hold a webinar discussion with Consulting Parties to review the comments that had been submitted in August on the draft AOE, and that it would then prepare a Final AOE, which would be presented for further review and comments.  That webinar session was twice scheduled and twice cancelled. In January, without explanation, the City skipped directly to releasing a “Final AOE.”   Consulting Parties thus will have had one less opportunity to clarify details and to comment on the report as they prepare their final statements for submission by February 18.  Rather than encouraging and facilitating discussion and dialogue to reach a best option, the City and FHWA have gone in the opposite direction.

5. What about the Consulting Parties webinar on January 23?       

While the webinar presentation itself largely rehashed the content of the AOE, there were opportunities for questions and at times for substantive answers as well.  The City committed to posting a transcript of the Q & A section of the webinar on line, and that will allow us and others to evaluate just what was said.  Once that transcript is available, we will send out an “Assessing the New AOE: Part 2” and will also include suggestions for actions interested individuals and consulting parties may wish to take.

6.  Digging into the AOE?

As noted above, the Final AOE is posted on the JPW website.

That same document and also the appendices that are referenced in its text are available on the City’s Federal Review website (scroll down to the box for January 16, 2020 under Key Federal Review Milestones).   

Because it can be difficult to navigate the multiple auxiliary documents, which are a mix of new and previously issued materials, here is a brief guide to various appendices that may be of particular interest.  Note: this guide uses the document names that appear on the City’s website and the numbering of the pages that appears on your computer:

·         AOE Appendices (a bundling of parts of Appendices A-G):

o   Appendix B, (pp 30-31) — Figures 2 and 4 showing the City’s design proposal for using the eastern tip of the Midway for UPAAR replacement land and indicating the 7 other sites that were considered. 

o   Appendix D (pp. 47-134) — Visual Impact Assessment

o   Appendix F (pp. 197-98) – Consulting Parties list

o   Appendix F (pp. 211-215) – Summary of Public Comments Submitted in August 2019

o   Appendix F (pp. 217-362) – Full Texts of Comments submitted by Consulting Parties, August 2019

·         Comment Disposition – Appendix F: Comments and Responses

o   This purports to be a point-by-point response by the official agencies to the comments on the draft AOE submitted by the Consulting Parties in August 2019.  However, not all queries or concerns were addressed and many of the responses are repetitive formulaic statements rather than substantive responses.  Note that some responses that would redirect the issue from the Section 106 process to the NEPA review are based on an overly narrow reading of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

o   Note that this table incorrectly includes a statement attributed to the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council, which should be removed and  recategorized as a statement by individuals. 

ALSO OF NOTE:  Further brief filed in Protect Our Parks lawsuit

The original Protect Our Parks lawsuit was filed in May 2018.  JPW has believed from the beginning that the suit raised some very important questions about the proper stewardship of a public good such as Jackson Park and about the hidden processes by which decisions about the Park were made.

The original lawsuit was dismissed in June 2019.  However, POP filed an appeal emphasizing the core issue of appropriate stewardship by the City of invaluable public trust land. 

In August, 2019, the Protect Our Parks legal team, arguing that the information in the newly released AOE has a material impact on the POP lawsuit, asked Federal Judge John R. Blakey to re-open the case so that the information in the AOE could be considered.  Judge Blakey ultimately denied the POP motion to reopen the case. POP has now filed a second brief challenging that denial.  A hearing on these arguments has not yet been scheduled.  As always, we will keep you informed.

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. 

Once again, we thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

Jackson Park Watch – January 11, 2020

Greetings, all!

In this Update:

  • The Section 106 review process is resuming: what comes next?
  • Underscoring the importance of the Nature Sanctuary

What’s next in the Section 106 review

In mid-December, we noted that the Section 106 review seemed to have stalled.  The Tribune’s article headed “Timetable for Obama Center still uncertain”  made the same point, and that perspective was shared in other media outlets as well.

Perhaps prompted by the questions from reporters, the City recently notified Section 106 consulting parties that the review process would soon resume, and just yesterday, on January 10,  the City announced that the revised draft Assessment of Effects (AOE) report would be released to consulting parties and also posted on the City’s web site on Thursday, January 16.  It also announced that the previously postponed webinar for consulting parties (see below) would take place on Thursday, January 23.

As the Section 106 review resumes, what should happen?

The Section 106 review process is intended to be a dynamic process in which opinions are exchanged and alternatives explored, rather than a bureaucratic exercise.  Veterans of the Section 106 process in other settings report that what should happen next is agreement on the extent and nature of the adverse impacts.  After that should come actual discussion between, on the one hand, the City (the sponsor of the proposed changes, albeit on behalf of the Obama Foundation) and the Federal Highway Administration (the lead federal agency on the Section 106 review), and, on the other hand, the various consulting parties, as to how to “resolve” the adverse impacts via avoidance, minimization, or, failing those, mitigation. 

Participants in the Section 106 review to date know that, as was typical for the City under recent mayors, “public input” has thus far been hampered by a format of large meetings with staged presentations and limited public Q & A.  While interested parties could and did submit written comments, there have been few if any responses to any of them.   As with many of the City’s past meetings on other large-scale projects, the Section 106 sessions for the OPC have appeared designed to enable the City to check off the “public participation” box rather than to actually solicit, consider, and respond to community questions and concerns.  There has been no actual discussion between the City and FHWA, on the one hand, and JPW or any of the consulting parties we work with, on the other.  There has been no exploration of alternate ways to move the project ahead.  

In order for the Section 106 review of the OPC to proceed on to a fruitful conclusion that will allow construction of the OPC to proceed, however modified, actual dialogue must begin.  We are hopeful that, with the new mayoral administration and a newly revised draft AOE, this will now be the case. 

The number and severity of adverse impacts that the current design of the OPC and related road changes would have on Jackson Park make it unlikely that the project could proceed without significant changes.  We note that additional adverse impacts beyond those noted in the initial draft Assessment of Effects (AOE) report are likely to have been identified after the information requested by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation in late August is provided and the comments submitted by the consulting parties have been taken into account. The intent of the Section 106 review is to come to agreement through discussion as to how a proposal that would have adverse impacts on a protected property (Jackson Park in this instance) can best be modified to allow the proposed project (the OPC and the road changes in this instance) to proceed.  Alternatives should be explored.  Compromise is anticipated. 

 Some details

To recap, the initial draft Assessment of Effects report, a key step in the Section 106 review, was released July 29.  A public meeting and a consulting parties meeting were held August 5 (for more details see JPW Updates for July 29 and themonth of August, 2019).  Subsequently, two meetings with consulting parties were scheduled and then postponed. 

Now that the Section 106 review is resuming, we anticipate that the process will follow this previously announced sequence of steps:

Discussion of the revised draft AOE report  
*Indeed, the January 23 webinar meeting for consulting parties, led by the City and the FHWA, will discuss a revised draft AOE report.  We and others will look to see whether the revised draft is responsive to the comments previously submitted by consulting parties and to the information provided pursuant to the ACHP request in August.  

Agreement on the identified adverse impacts:  
* Following the webinar meeting, the City and FHWA will 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 will then be resolved via discussions with the FHWA, or,
* If those discussions are unsuccessful, the differences will be resolved via review by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP). 

“Resolving” the adverse effects.
* Once all disagreements about the text of the AOE report are settled, the review process will then move on to discussions of how to resolve the adverse effects. 
* Attempts to resolve the adverse effects must first address how to “avoid” any adverse effects, next how to “minimize” them, and finally how to “mitigate” them.  

Final MOA
* The final outcome of the process will be a Memorandum of Agreement outlining how the OPC will move forward, including any agreed-upon modifications to the design of the site regarding road layout, acreage, and building design.  It will be signed, in this instance, by the City, the FHWA, the National Park Service, and the Illinois State Historic Preservation Officer (this office has been involved each step of the way).
* If those discussions were to be unsuccessful, something that would be quite rare, the ACHP would be required to provide formal advisory comments to the lead agency, FHWA, for its consideration.

Underscoring the importance of the Nature Sanctuary

One issue related to the OPC project is the proposal to merge and expand the existing Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses to create a new, pro-level course.  This proposal, also stalled, would entail destruction of the much-loved Nature Sanctuary immediately south and east of the South Shore Cultural Center. A recent piece in the Hyde Park Herald featured a biologist’s appraisal of the significance of the Nature Sanctuary to local wildlife.  A follow-up letter underscored the importance of the Nature Sanctuary to natural world and humans alike.

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
co-presidents
Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

Jackson Park Watch Update – December 16, 2019

Hello again!

Hard on the heels of our JPW Update of yesterday (12/15), saying that the Section 106 process appears to be stalled, came today’s e-message from the City (see below).  So perhaps there has been movement behind the scenes after all.

We will see what this amount to and, as always, we will keep you posted.

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

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dear Consulting Parties,

Thank you for your patience as we work to refine the Assessment of Effects (AOE) under the Section 106 review of Federal Actions in and around Jackson Park. 

 We have nearly completed the necessary revisions to the draft AOE that you provided comment on in August 2019 and expect to make the final AOE available in early January 2020. We will also host a webinar to review the document changes with you at that time. Another notice with schedule details will be sent after the New Year.

 Separately, the Chicago Park District will issue a request for proposals (RFP)for certain utility relocation work in Jackson Park. The utilities on the OPC site serve other parts of Jackson Park and will need to be moved once Federal approvals have concluded. This RFP will identify the contractor who will oversee the utility relocation work.

Finally, we continue to work with Federal agencies on an Environmental Assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act and anticipate releasing that document to the public in early 2020 as well.

Thank you for your continued involvement in the project!

Abby Monroe | Public Participation Officer 

City of Chicago | Department of Planning and Development (DPD)
Bureau of Planning, Sustainability and Historic Preservation
121 North LaSalle, 10th Floor, Suite 1000 | Chicago, IL 60602
Office: (312) 744-9416     abby.monroe@cityofchicago.org

Jackson Park Watch Update – December 15, 2019

Greetings, all!  Best wishes for a happy holiday season and the new year.

In this Update:

  • Looking back: four years!
  • Looking ahead: what’s next for the OPC, golf course projects
  • Lake levels rising

FOUR YEARS!

As we move into 2020, JPW heads into its fifth year.  It is a good time to review objectives that still guide JPW’s work.  Our goals are to promote:

  • transparency in decision-making about Jackson Park;
  • meaningful community input on major changes to the Park;
  • preservation of the Park as a democratic public space with priority to local uses and users; and
  • development of one comprehensive plan for the entire Park.

JPW originated out of concerns about ill-defined plans for a visitor center and outdoor music venue adjacent to the Museum of Science and Industry put forward by a little known organization, Project 120.  JPW ultimately surfaced a secretive Agreement between the president of Project 120 and Park District CEO Mike Kelly giving Project 120 the green light for that project and other potential changes to the core of Jackson Park.  Community voices raised in response to JPW’s information put a brake on those plans; former President Obama’s announcement in summer of 2016 that he had chosen Jackson Park for the site of his Presidential Library (now Center) sidelined them indefinitely.  (Click here for more on Project 120 and its proposals.) 

As we enter year five, issues related to plans for the Obama Presidential Center and for its sister project, the merged/expanded golf course, are now front and center.

Looking ahead: what’s next for the OPC?

The Obama Presidential Center is currently on hold. The Obama Foundation cannot cut a tree or bring in a bulldozer.  No roads can be closed or reconfigured.  No construction can begin.  What will it take to move OPC plans ahead? and when? (Click here for JPW’s coverage of the OPC.) 

What?  No work can begin on the planned OPC until the completion of the federal reviews.  Even then, only if the completed reviews sign off on the project plans as they now stand, can the project move ahead without revisions.  

How likely is it that the federal reviews will green-light the OPC plans as they currently stand?  This is quite unclear, especially given that the draft Assessment of Effects report, released in late July, determined that the plans would have significant adverse impacts on Jackson Park and the fact that additional information on the potential impacts has been requested.   Stay tuned as this unfolds.

When?  Mayor Lori Lightfoot indicated in a recent meeting that the City wants to move the process ahead.  However, beyond the still unfinished Section 106 review, there are other mandated federal reviews to follow, including the NEPA environmental impact review, the Environmental Impact Statement that a project of this magnitude should require, and the 4(f) review of the planned road changes.  These additional reviews will take time.

Additionally, the Protect Our Parks lawsuit appeal is still alive and, given the significant delays noted above, may well be concluded in time to have an impact.  An eloquent recent op-ed in Crain’s by the lawyers managing the appeal, Richard Epstein and Michael Rachlis, spelled out the rationale behind the appeal.  Epstein’s description of the case in an earlier interview in the Hyde Park Herald ago gives another overview of the key elements of the appeal. 

Another voice: Discussion of the OPC and its siting in Jackson Park was recently enlivened by public remarks by Lee Bey, a noted African-American author, former Sun-Times architecture critic, and recent Vice-President of DuSable Museum.  In a November 26 appearance at the Silver Room on 53rd street, Bey criticized the design saying “I think that that tower is foolishness…. It’s clad in limestone or granite; it’s shoved in this park.”  In comments that drew applause, Bey asserted that a location in Washington Park near the Garfield Green Line Station would be superior to the proposed Jackson Park location, and said that the OPC “is being oversold as a [economic[ catalyst.”

Looking ahead: what’s next for the golf course?

The golf course merger/expansion project, too, is on hold.

As recently reported, the SmithGroup’s engineering work on the design of the merged/expanded golf course has been put on hold by the Park District – back in February, it has become known.  Instead, SmithGroup now has a separate contract with the Park District to assess projected impacts to Park District property along the Chicago lakefront resulting from rising lake levels and the increasing number of extreme storms sparked by climate change and to develop a prioritized action plan, including potential sources of funding for work that will be required. While the golf course project has not been cancelled, it is definitely now on the backburner.

About those lake levels    

The news:  Lake levels in 2019 have equaled the record high levels of 1986; they are predicted to continue to rise; and it is unclear whether the agencies in charge of protecting Chicago’s lakefront have the resources to do the job.

High water levels are getting serious attention all around the Great Lakes region.  It was the topic of a meeting convened by Congressman Bobby Rush in Bronzeville on Monday, December 2, featuring representatives of the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Park District, and CDOT.  The Army Corps predicted that Lake Michigan levels will be higher next year than this year, but declined to make any longer-term forecasts and dodged discussion of climate change.  We note that Donald Trump has forbidden the military, of which the Army Corps is a part, from discussing climate change or using climate change information in its analysis or planning.

Corps personnel indicated a particular concern about the impact of storms and high waves combined with the high water levels on shoreline conditions and erosion.  Damage done on November 11 this year along S. Lake Shore Drive between 48th and 51st was cited as an example.  In response to questions, the Corps also identified some key limits on its work.  For one, the Army Corps is not authorized to assist private property owners. Further, Congressional action is required before the Corps can undertake any long-term protective measures to assist local governments, and local governmental units must exhaust their own funding sources before the Corps can step in.

The Army Corps, Park District, and CDOT asserted that all three entities are working together to assess the situation and plan next steps. As mentioned above in the golf course project section, the Park District has commissioned SmithGroup to develop a full assessment and a prioritized action plan.  Given that continually rising lake levels will affect Jackson Park beaches, our golf courses, the Jackson Park lagoons (which rise in tandem with the lake), S. Lake Shore Drive, and potentially even the plans for the OPC, we will track developments with interest and will share what we learn.   

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks to all who offer 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. 

As always, we thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid

Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

Jackson Park Watch Update – November 26, 2019

Greetings, allBest wishes for a joyful Thanksgiving and, if you are traveling, for safe and happy travels!

CBA affordable housing issues appear to advance but no movement on OPC review

Despite some delays and disappointments, the CBA Coalition has continued to press ahead and their persistence and that of Aldermen Jeanette Taylor and Leslie Hairston now appears to have paid off.  Mayor Lori Lightfoot has expressed support for the underlying issues of insuring affordable housing and avoiding displacement.   Representatives of the City’s Law and Housing departments met with the aldermen to discuss how to address technical legal problems with the CBA ordinance that was introduced in July.  We’ll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, there has been no forward movement in the federal reviews related to the Obama Presidential Center itself.  After the chaotic August 5 public presentation of the draft Assessment of Effects to Historic Properties, a twice-postponed follow-up meeting of Section 106 consulting parties has still not been rescheduled.  No information about a possible date is available

Further, a review mandated by the National Environmental PolicyAct (NEPA) of 1966 must also be completed as part of the federal review. The conduct of the NEPA review itself is unclear because responsibility for its management shifted from the Federal Highway Administration to the National Park Service in mid-2018.  Initial NEPA documents done by the FHWA and the City before then attempt to gloss over the mandatory 4(f) review assessing alternatives to the major road changes planned to accommodate Obama Foundation wishes.  In addition, numerous consulting parties have argued that the NEPA review should include a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) because of the scale of the impact the proposed OPC would have on Jackson Park and the adjacent neighborhoods.

It is unclear what comes next.  All told, it appears likely that many more months of waiting are in store.

What’s up with the proposed golf course merger?

Here again is a project – announced with great fanfare back in December of 2016! – that has failed to move forward.

First there were two years of boosterish presentations and attempted fundraising.  Then in December 2018 the Park District hired SmithGroup, an engineering consulting firm, to prepare design and construction documents for the merger of the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses.  The 3-year contract anticipated that construction would begin in fall 2019 and the “golf package” would completed by fall 2021. 

Recently, however, Park District officials have reported that SmithGroup has been told to stop further work on the golf project because it was not clear when or if it was going forward.  Guiding the decision was the combination of weak fundraising by the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, the uncertainty about key elements of the plan (e.g., the underpasses) as a result of the on-going federal reviews of the OPC plans, and the new, urgent focus by the Park District on shoreline problems along the entire lakefront.

The shift in focus and schedules was evident at the October 2019 meeting of the Park District board, when it approved a separate 3-year consulting contract with SmithGroup for development of Phase 1 of a Lakefront Strategic Action Plan that would address erosion problems along the entire Chicago lakefront, from Evanston to Indiana.   The work will include a comprehensive inventory analysis of existing conditions, a strategy for prioritizing improvements, and key ways to partner with other local, state, and federal agencies (e.g., US Army Corps of Engineers).  Future phases of the project will include detailed improvement strategies for specific sites along the lakefront, dependent on the availability of state and federal funding.  The seriousness of the shoreline problem has been highlighted in the Tribune and the Sun-Times , showing emergency work just launched in Rogers Park and noting plans for similar temporary fixes to be done on the south side, at 49th Street and 67th Street, in the next few weeks. 

So where does this leave the Tiger Woods golf project that is dependent on coastal improvements at South Shore?  Perhaps underwater, certainly in for a long delay.

MPAC officers re-elected after a battle

In what had become in effect a proxy war over the Obama Presidential Center, the incumbent officers of the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council were readily re-elected on November 13.  The MPAC connection to the OPC concerned the Obama Foundation’s proposal to utilize the east end of the Midway Plaisance for an above-ground parking garage, something that the officers and a majority of the membership opposed. A second connection was the subsequent attempt by the City of Chicago to designate that same area as “UPAAR replacement parkland,” a move that generated serious concerns by a large number of members and prompted the submission of a letter to the City objecting to any plan that would jeopardize the park’s listing on the National Register of Historical Places.  In response, a competing slate of officers had been nominated. 

The election meeting attracted close to 100 MPAC members and featured on-going attempts by some to delay or postpone the vote.  Less well known is that fact that those advocating delay had been lobbying Park District officials to cancel the meeting up until shortly before the meeting began, alleging various improper conduct by MPAC officers.  Upon review, the Park District officials had found that all notifications, procedures, and provisions for voting were in order, and the meeting proceeded as scheduled.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

As always, we welcome your financial support.  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.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

Jackson Park Watch Update – November 2, 2019

Greetings, all!

The Obama Foundation Summit
Protect Our Parks Appeal Brief Filed
Those Trees:  Worth saving?  Dying?  Healthy and mature?

The Message from the Obama Foundation Summit – Trust Us

The Obama Foundation hosted its third annual invitation-only Summit earlier this week, featuring celebrities, donors, and participants in its Obama Scholar programs.  Interviews with President and Mrs. Obama headlined the agenda, which had the theme of “Places Reveal our Purpose.”   As reported in BlockClubChicago and Crain’s, the Obamas reiterated their goal of replacing Jackson Park as it now is with a South Side version of the Museum Campus and Millennium Park.  They dismissed Jackson Park today as “underutilized” except by golfers and failed to acknowledge Olmsted’s vision for the park as an exceptional natural and open area offering respite from the congestion of urban life.   The Obamas repeated their assertion that the OPC would be an economic catalyst for the South Side, but offered no actual information as to how that could happen. Interestingly, when former President Obama described the OPC he stated “… we want this to be a university for activism and social change.”

In connection with the meeting, the Obama Foundation released revised designs for the Obama Presidential Campus, showing minor tweaks to the interior of the public library and the children’s playgrounds and some changes to the exterior of the massive 235-foot museum tower meant to make it less intimidating and more “elegant.”  The Tribune’s Blair Kamin concluded “there’s more work to be done,” and the architects have already said they are working on further refinements. 

So where do things stand? The federal reviews are on-going, albeit apparently stalled for now.  Community members continue to express strong reservations about the plans in letters and interviews.  The Protect Our Parks appeal continues (see below).  All in all, while there is overwhelming support for having the OPC on the South Side, the consequences of a top-down planning process that imposed an inappropriate design and major tax-payer-funded road changes on historic Jackson Park continue to play themselves out.  Had the Obamas chosen a different location, construction would be well underway.  Under the circumstances, “trust us” isn’t sufficient.

POP appeal brief filed

The Protect Our Parks brief outlining its appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit was filed October 25, emphasizing the core issue of appropriate stewardship by the City of invaluable public trust land.  It is this issue that JPW has consistently pointed to as making the POP efforts worthy of note.  A second issue highlighted in the appeal is whether, in leaving all decisions about the site selection and design of the OPC up to the Obama Foundation, the City engaged in an improper delegation of its authority and responsibilities.

The POP appeal brief is posted on the POP Lawsuit page on the JPW website.   The City and Park District now have until November 25 to file their response.  POP must then file a reply by December 16.  Sometime after that submission a date will be set for oral arguments, likely for late winter.  It will be heard by a panel of three appellate judges drawn from among the judges on the Seventh Circuit.  The identity of the designated judges will not be known in advance of the hearing.

On a related note, as reported in the August 16 JPW Update, after the Section 106 Assessment of Effects (AOE) report was released in late July, POP filed a motion to reopen the initial review under Judge Blakey to take into account the AOE report.  That motion is on hold pending action by Judge Blakey.

Dead and Dying OR Alive and Healthy?

Sharply divergent perspectives on the actual status of the proposed OPC site today were offered up in recent Crain’s Chicago Business pieces by two community members.  As is so often the case in public pronouncements made in our era, one had to wonder if the protagonists had the same space in mind. 

On the one hand was Louise McCurry, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council, with   “The dirty little secret….”

And on the other hand was JPW’s Margaret Schmid with “I don’t recognize that park….”

 (A note to readers: we recognize that not everyone can get past Crain’s paywall.  We apologize in advance.  Schmid’s article refers to a professional study of the trees that now grow on the proposed OPC site that includes details about specific trees and maps of tree locations. We highly recommend it even if you cannot link to the Crain’s pieces.)

Divergent perspectives on the proposed OPC site were also evident on October 26 when a group of preservationists – led by Ross Peterson, former president of the  Jackson Park Advisory Council, and Herb Caplan of Protect Our Parks – gathered  there to tie red ribbons around the many mature trees throughout the park that would be removed to construct the OPC campus and the roadway reconfigurations it requires.   Seemingly unable to tolerate the demonstration, some community members removed the ribbons as rapidly as they were wrapped around the trees.  The Hyde Park Herald captured the standoff and the varying opinions.  The debate goes on.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

As always, we welcome your financial support.  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.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

Jackson Park Watch Update – October 20, 2019

Greetings, all!

In this Update:

  • Next step in federal review of OPC postponed
  • Who is on the ACHP, the federal agency responsible for the Section 106 federal review?
  • The Obama Foundation’s invitation-only “Importance of Place” summit
  • South Shore Nature Sanctuary Stewardship Team wins award 
  • POP appeal brief to be submitted soon

Next step in Section 106 review of OPC postponed once more

The consulting party webinar meeting on the proposed Assessment of Effects (AOE) report that was set for next Wednesday, October 23, has now been postponed.  That session itself was originally set for September 23, as the follow-up on the public meetings held August 5.

Consulting parties learned the news in a message from the City on October 18 that said:

Thank you for your continued patience as we prepare for the next steps of the Section 106 process. Originally, we planned to host a webinar to update Consulting Parties on changes that would be made to the Assessment of Effects that would have been followed by issuing the revised document a few weeks later. We realize now, that it would be better for everyone if the revised Assessment of Effects were available in advance of the webinar so that the conversation can be well informed.

Therefore, we are cancelingthe webinar scheduled for next Wednesday (October 23) and will be sending additional communications shortly with a new webinar date and the accompanying documents for your review.

JPW anticipates that the revised AOE report will be available for an additional 30-day review period by the consulting parties.   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 are resolved, the review process will then move on to discussions of how to resolve the adverse effects. 

The initial draft AOE report, released July 29, found that the OPC plan as currently proposed would have significant adverse effects on Jackson Park.  This central finding prompted significant criticisms by numerous consulting parties who, while agreeing with the central finding, argued that additional important issues and potential adverse effects had been ignored or misrepresented. Veterans of the Section 106 review process have suggested that comments in the 8/22 letter from the ACHP are the reason that the webinar has been scheduled and that additional opportunities for consulting parties to have input into the AOE have been provided.

As always, we will continue to keep you posted.

Who is on the ACHP? 

Until recently, few readers of JPW Updates had heard of  the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, an independent federal agency created by the 1966 National Historic Preservation Act to help ensure that federal agencies do not inadvertently destroy or harm landscapes, properties, buildings, or other crucial aspects of our nation’s cultural and historic heritage as they carry out their operations.  The ACHP’s mission is as follows: “ The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation promotes the preservation, enhancement, and sustainable use of our nation’s diverse historic resources, and advises the President and the Congress on national historic preservation policy.”

The ACHP has an experienced, professional staff that handles most ACHP business, the Council deals mainly with issues of policy or with the rare problematic cases that the staff has been unable to resolve.  The Council itself has 24 members designated by statute.  Questions have recently been raised as to who is on the ACHP and when they were appointed.  Here is the breakdown of the current Council members, taken from the ACHP website.

  • Four members of the general public and four historic preservation experts including the chair and vice-chair are appointed by the President.  Of these eight, only one, the chair, has been appointed by President Trump; the seven others were appointed by former President Obama during his term in office.
  • A member of an Indian tribe or Native Hawaiian organization, a governor, and a mayor are also appointed by the President.  Of these three, one is in place, and that individual was appointed by former President Obama.  The other two positions, those of governor and mayor, are currently vacant.
  • Two federal agency heads (Agriculture and Interior) are permanent members along with the Architect of the Capital.
  • Seven federal agency heads are designated by the President.  These are currently the heads of the General Services Administration; Defense; Transportation; Homeland Security; Housing and Urban Development; Education; and the Veterans Administration.  Each of these agencies has a federal preservation officer.
  • Additionally, there are ex officio representatives of three national preservation organizations selected directly by the organization they represent:  the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers; the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers; and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Obama Foundation’s “Importance of Place” summit

JPW readers may have seen some news references to the Obama Foundation’s third summit, an invitation-only event to be held in Chicago on October 28 and 29 with the theme “Places Reveal Our Purpose.” 

Media releases indicate that the event, to be held on the near South Side, will include young leaders from around the world and participants of programs run by the Obama Foundation. Officials say the summit will show how the Obama Presidential Center “connects to a growing global network of leaders.” 

JPW and others commend the Obama Foundation for the leadership training programs it has begun.  It is worth noting that these have flourished without needing a facility in Jackson Park.  Indeed, in keeping with the “global network” focus of Obama Foundation programming, these have taken place in a wide variety of places around the globe.

South Shore Nature Sanctuary Stewardship Program wins FOTP award

The South Shore Nature Sanctuary Community Stewardship Program, under the able leadership of Susannah Ribstein with co-steward Jerry Levy, was recently recognized by Friends of the Parks with one of its 2019 VIP (Volunteers in the Parks) Awards.    Congratulations to the Nature Sanctuary Stewardship Team!

Those not already familiar with the Nature Sanctuary may wish to explore the following links, among the many sources of information about this marvelous natural area.  Even better, make a visit!

http://chicagopatterns.com/south-shore-nature-sanctuary/

https://www.openlands.org/2018/06/28/have-you-discovered-the-south-shore-nature-sanctuary/

Unfortunately, plans for a merged/expanded PGA-level golf course would destroy the Nature Sanctuary as it currently exists.  Those plans would slice off the Sanctuary’s lakefront access and eliminate the popular council rings in order to install a green and fairway for the “money hole” at the far east end of the Nature Sanctuary.  Surrounded by golfing activity on three sides, the much-diminished prairie space would no longer be a “sanctuary”  for fellowship or solitude.  And, despite the assertions of the golf plan’s advocates, the idea of adding new natural plantings elsewhere on the golf course – in elongated space between fairways – does not approach a fair tradeoff. This threat to the Nature Sanctuary has generated massive community opposition to the golf course expansion plan (to learn more, see http://jacksonparkwatch.org/golf-course). 

POP appeal brief to be submitted by October 25

Regular Update readers will recall that an appeal to Judge Blakey’s June 12 dismissal of the Protect Our Parks challenge to the siting of the Obama President Center in Jackson Park was filed on August 7 .  The POP legal team, led by U Chicago law professor Richard Epstein, will file the brief outlining the appeal by next Friday, October 25.  We will provide more information when it is available.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

As always, we welcome your financial support.  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. 

Once again, we thank you.

Brenda Nelms and Margaret Schmid
Co-presidents, Jackson Park Watch
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

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.

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 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

www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com

Jackson Park Watch Update – September 7, 2019

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.

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
www.jacksonparkwatch.org
jacksonparkwatch@gmail.com
www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

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