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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JACKSON PARK WATCH UPDATE – AUGUST 16, 2019

Greetings, all!

There is action on many fronts!  See below for news on:

  • The Assessment of Effects (AOE) report
    • Be sure to look at what you can do;
  • The golf course proposal and the Nature Sanctuary;
  • The Protect Our Parks legal appeal.

More on the Assessment of Effects (AOE) report

We remind readers that the stated purpose of the entire federally mandated Section 106 historic review process is preservation of historic places and identification of threats to them.  This well-established process, dating back to the 1960s when the construction of the federal highway system endangered multiple historic places, includes clear review criterion and procedural requirements.

Key contents of  the AOE: 

As was widely noted when it was first released, the draft AOE report  correctly concludes that the plans to construct the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park along with the related road changes will have clear, significant adverse effects on the historic park

However, the AOE incorrectly argues that there will be no adverse effects on historic properties or historic districts in the near neighborhoods.  The AOE comes to this conclusion using two erroneous and incomplete sets of data. 

  • It relies on the traffic study CDOT used in developing its plans to accommodate the OPC design by closing Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd streets, closing the eastbound Midway Plaisance, and making other massive road changes.  Among other short-comings, that study failed to do a thorough analysis of where traffic would be diverted as a result – for example, onto 67th street or other side streets through Hyde Park and South Shore.  (See JPW’s independent  traffic study for discussion of those issues.)
  • It fails completely to include an above-ground-level analysis of the visual impact of the Obama museum tower on the area, arguing that, despite the ready availability of inexpensive technology to do such a review, the City does not have the relevant technology.

In addition, the section of the AOE report on recreation and UPARR replacement parkland is misleading and incomplete.  In proposing to take over the 5.2 acres at the east end of the Midway Plaisance for replacement parkland, replete with a fenced in playground, the City is for the first time apparently conceding that more than just one acre of replacement parkland is required to balance the loss of  the 19.3 acres of public park that would be handed over to the OPC.  However, this proposed use of the Midway space would do nothing to provide parkland in the park-poor Woodlawn or South Shore.  It is opposed by the Midway Park Advisory Council.  The Midway is itself on the National Register of Historic Places; “replacing” historic parkland with historic parkland makes little sense.  The National Park Service, whose approval is required, has not signed off on either the amount of replacement parkland that will be needed or the proposed site.

Problems compounded by August 5 meetings

The problems with process throughout the development of the plans for the OPC and road changes are well known – staged and manipulated public meetings being central to them.  The August 5 meetings held to review the AOE report, required by the federal process, unfortunately provided a rerun of the severe shortcomings in how the City managed the process under former Mayor Emanuel.  As reported in the Sun-Times and Crain’s, JPW joined with other concerned organizations to point out to Mayor Lightfoot the contrast between the continued use of such ham-handed tactics and her administration’s commitment to transparency, accountability, and community input, urging her to provide leadership in forging a resolution that will facilitate both the construction of the OPC on the South Side and the preservation of historic Jackson Park. 

What you can do

The next federally mandated steps in the Section 106 process require consideration of ways to avoid, minimize, or mitigate the adverse effects of the OPC and road plans on Jackson Park.  What do you think should be done and why?  The federal review process requires accepting and considering public comments on these issues.  Your comments would become part of the record in the case, which is far from over.

Attempting micro-definitions of “avoidance” or “minimization” as opposed to “mitigation” is not useful here.  But some examples might help:  moving the OPC to another location outside of Jackson Park a very clear example of “avoidance.”  Keeping Cornell open (albeit with fewer lanes, traffic calming, and pedestrian enhancements), keeping the eastbound segment of Midway Plaisance open, dramatically “right-sizing” the Obama tower, and saving the maximum number of healthy mature trees would constitute  examples of “minimization.”   

The draft AOE report includes a section arguing implausibly that the OPC design itself already constitutes “minimization,” and that thus only “mitigation” is appropriate now. Comments by City and highway agency representatives at the August 5 meetings showed that they think appropriate mitigation would be such things as taking photos, counting trees to be cut, and creating an archival record of the Park as it looks today before the current site is in effect destroyed. 

JPW and many others are deeply concerned about this approach, which, if executed, would not only spell the end of a significant portion of historic Jackson Park and presumably the end to its listing on the National Register, but would set a precedent that would threaten the integrity and functioning of the Section 106 process itself. 

We urge you to send your suggestions about what can and should be done to address the causes of the adverse effects documented in the AOE report   You can also comment on specific findings of the draft report if you see gaps or mistakes that should be corrected for the final version.  In addition to the text of the report, linked above, the appendices and the presentation slides from August 5 are available on the City’s website.

Send your comments by August 30 to the designated recipient: Abby Monroe at the City’s Department of Planning and Development,  Abby.Monroe@cityofchicago.org, and to the other lead personnel:  Matt Fuller for FHWA at matt.fuller@dot.gov; Lee Tersiz for the NPS at lee_terzis@nps.gov;  Nate Roseberry for CDOT at nathan.roseberry@cityofchicago.org; Heather Gleason for the Park District at heather.gleason@chicagoparkdistrict.com; and Brad Koldehoff for IDOT at brad.koldehoff@illinois.gov.                                 

Please also share your comments with key City decision-makers: 

Mayor Lori Lightfoot lori.lightfoot@cityofchicago.org       

Chief of Staff Maurice Classen maurice.classen@cityofchicago.org

Deputy Mayor for Economic and Neighborhood Development Samir Mayekar    Samir.Mayekar@cityofchicago.org           

Chief Engagement Officer Juan Carlos Linares Juan.Linares@cityofchicago.org

Chief Equity Officer Candace Moore candace.moore@cityofchicago.org                                   

Golf course in the news – again

News reports in June indicated that proponents of the Tiger Woods-designed golf course expansion/merger in Jackson Park and South Shore planned  to use Woods’ presence in the area this week for the  BMW Championship at Medinah Country Club to help market the plan.  Among those proponents is Alderman Leslie Hairston. Described as gung-ho for the golf course project, Hairston told the Sun-Times she would like to take Mayor Lightfoot, a skeptic of the project, on a tour of the nature sanctuary at South Shore Cultural Center “because it’s actually all dead. And it’s been dead for some years.” 

JPW and other advocates for the preservation of the nature sanctuary and other recreational and natural features that would be obliterated by the expanded golf course found this quite strange.  A gorgeous photo of the sanctuary in full bloom, taken the morning of August 14 and totally disproving the Alderman’s description, was quickly posted on Twitter,  shared by JPW with the Board of Commissioners of the Park District at its monthly meeting, and widely circulated in the Sun-Times and BlockClubChicago.  We sincerely hope Alderman Hairston will indeed soon take the Mayor on a tour at South Shore so that they both can enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the space.

Protect Our Parks appeal and the AOE

The Protect Our Parks legal team, arguing that the information in the AOE report has a material impact on the POP lawsuit, has asked Federal Judge John R. Blakey to re-open the case so that the information in the AOE can be considered.  The City’s response to that request, just filed on  Thursday, ignores the substance of the AOE findings and argues that the report is not relevant. A hearing on these arguments has not yet been scheduled.  We will keep you posted.

In the meantime, here is a recent comment by POP attorney Richard Epstein on the broader issues being argued in the POP suit. 

THANK YOU FOR YOUR DONATIONS!

Thanks as always to all who have recently offered financial support, support that enables us to retain expert legal counsel.  You can contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via checks made out to Jackson Park Watch sent to directly to Jackson Park Watch, P.O. Box 15302, Chicago 60615. 
  • You can contribute via PayPal here.
  • You can contribute via checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602, ATTN Kyla Williams.  Such checks should be made out to FOTP with a note stating they are intended for Jackson Park Watch. 

As always, we thank you.

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

Jackson Park Watch – August 8, 2019

Greetings, all!

AOE meetings a huge disappointment

Both the consulting party and public meetings last Monday (8/5),  convened to discuss the recently released Assessment of Effects (AOE) report, were huge disappointments.  (See JPW Updates for July 29 and August 1 for background information on the AOE.) Just that morning the Tribune had published a letter from JPW, underlining the gravity of the accounting of the adverse impact on Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance of the proposed OPC and related road changes, and expressing hope for an effective review.   Despite these sessions occurring under a new administration, there were no traces of the transparency, accountability, or openness to community input that we have come to expect of Mayor Lightfoot’s leadership. Thoughtful questions received rote responses or incomplete answers.  Representatives from FHWA, IDOT, and CDOT essentially disregarded the AOE finding of significant adverse effects, and asserted instead that such adverse findings are routine, that the projects can still move forward, and that there will be instead alleged “improvements” to the Park.  

Reports by Block Club Chicago and WBEZ captured the concerns and disappointment felt by many attendees. The City has posted a vimeo of the consulting parties meeting  along with its presentation slides and other documents on its inaptly named “Jackson Park Improvements” website.

If you were there…

If you were at the meeting, you will certainly have your own assessment of the event.  We urge you to write to Mayor Lori Lightfoot at lori.lightfoot@cityofchicago.org to share your opinion (include a cc to her Chief of Staff Maurice Classen at maurice.classen@cityofchicago.org and also a cc to her Director of Community Engagement Juan Carlos Linares at juan.linares@cityofchicago.org).  We also hope that you will submit a separate, more analytical comment on the AOE report itself as part of the Section 106 review process by the August 30 deadline.  We will provide more information on potential points to make and where to submit your comments in the next Update.

If you were not there…

If you have enough information about the meeting to have opinions to share, we urge you to write Mayor Lori Lightfoot at lori.lightfoot@cityofchicago.org to share your opinion (include a cc to her Chief of Staff Maurice Classen at maurice.classen@cityofchicago.org and also a cc to her Director of Community Engagement Juan Carlos Linares at juan.linares@cityofchicago.org).  We think it is urgently important that Mayor Lightfoot hear from the many members of the community who are hoping that she will bring her legendary problem-solving skills to bear on crafting a broadly acceptable compromise to this conflict.  Sadly, there was no evidence of that approach at Monday’s meetings.  We urge you as well to consider submitting comments on the AOE report itself.

AOE Prompts New Filing by Protect Our Parks

The AOE report is having ripple effects beyond the Section 106 review process.   Protect Our Parks, which is now at the appeal stage of its lawsuit to block the siting of the OPC in Jackson Park, has filed a new motion seeking to vacate (i.e.,  cancel) the ruling of June 11 that dismissed POP’s suit against the City and Park District. Noting the unequivocal conclusion in the AOE report that the OPC will have an adverse impact on Jackson Park, POP asserts that the report contains information of direct relevance to the facts of its suit, in particular to the City’s claim to be “improving” Jackson Park, that should be considered in adjudicating the case.  The new motion will be considered next week, as reported in the Herald.

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.  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.c
www.facebook.com/jacksonparkwatch

Jackson Park Watch Update – August 1, 2019

Greetings, all!

The federal reviews have resumed with the recent release of the 61-page Assessment Of Effects (AOE) report which concludes that plans for the Obama Presidential Center and related road changes will have an adverse impact on historic Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance. It has drawn major attention, confirming that observers who have questioned the suitability of the plan as proposed for the historic Park are correct.  The report is lengthy, technical, inconsistent (different sections were obviously written by different parties), but also significant, setting the stage for new phases in this on-going saga.  Since we know that not everyone has the time or stamina to read it through, this Update will:

  • Highlight several issues that are of key importance to Jackson Park and the near neighborhoods:
  • overall adverse impact of the Obama Foundation plans for OPC site;
  • traffic; and
  • recreation/parkland replacement.
  • Comment on reactions by the Obama Foundation and by Mayor Lightfoot.
  • Reiterate the importance of attendance at the public meeting on the AOE report that will occur Monday, August 5, from 6 to 8 pm at the Logan Center on the U Chicago campus (915 E. 60th Street, first-floor theater).

Three key issues

Adverse impact on Jackson Park. 

In strong and clear language, the most significant portion of the AOE (pp. 28-33) concludes that the proposed OPC buildings and campus  and  related road changes will have a host of adverse impacts on Jackson Park and also on portions of the Midway Plaisance. There has been widespread coverage of the report, including in Block Club Chicago and the Sun-Times.  When considering the historic Park as it is today and comparing it with the Obama Foundation/City plans to clear cut and level the site, erect a 235’/23-story museum tower, and make major road changes throughout the area, this conclusion is no surprise.  This finding raises important questions:  Would the Obama Foundation be willing to “right size” the museum tower”?  Leave Cornell Drive and eastbound Midway Plaisance open? Develop a plan to save as many trees on the site as possible rather than cutting them all?

After the August 5 meetings, changes will likely be made to the AOE to reflect input from consulting parties and the public. The next step in this process will be federally mandated efforts to identify possible changes to the plans that would avoid, minimize, or mitigate the adverse impacts on the Park.

Traffic

JPW has long been concerned with the Obama Foundation demands to close Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd streets and eastbound Midway Plaisance east of Stony Island and to make additional major changes to areas roadways, all at taxpayer expense.  Not only are taxpayers being asked to foot the bill, but this plan is discretionary: Obama Foundation officials have told JPW in private meetings on two occasions that the OPC could be located in Jackson Park even if Cornell Drive were to remain open.  Further, a satisfactory analysis of the traffic impacts has never been forthcoming.

There is an available alternative.  Prior to the selection of Jackson Park for the OPC, Project 120 developed a  plan to slim Cornell Drive to four lanes throughout and to slow traffic by adding traffic calming features, a proposal that was endorsed by the Park District itself.  JPW commissioned an expert traffic analysis  that came up with a similar proposal, a proposal that the City has refused to acknowledge. 

JPW’s traffic expert also raised a series of questions about gaps in the traffic data that the City continues to rely on in this AOE.  One key issue is the complete absence of analysis of the spillover traffic impacts of the closure on Cornell on roads throughout the area, both larger roads such as Stony Island, Lake Shore Drive, 67th Street, and Jeffrey, and the myriad of neighborhood streets that already suffer from intermittent traffic overload. A second key concern is lack of attention to parking needs in and around the park.  The underground garage at the OPC is designed to accommodate visitors to the OPC museum and events.  But for regular, local users of the Park, the loss of on-street parking along Hayes and Marquette has not been addressed, and the impact of parking spillover in the surrounding neighborhoods (including by OPC visitors) has not been assessed.

This absent data is now critical:  In the sections of the AOE assessing impacts on historic buildings and historic districts, the City asserts that there will be only “minor traffic increases that will not be perceptible” and concludes that there will be no adverse impacts whatsoever on those adjacent areas (pp. 16-17).   This is an assertion that the Obama Foundation has seized on its media efforts to diminish the damaging AOE assessment of adverse impact on Jackson Park. 

JPW suggests that increased traffic and parking problems would cause widespread adverse effects that are simply left out in the current iteration of the AOE.  Likewise simply ignored are the hazards of increased traffic for pedestrians and school-related vehicular and pedestrian traffic associated with the three schools along Stony Island Avenue.

Recreation and parkland replacement

Despite the seemingly final descriptions in the portions of the AOE that deal specifically with recreation changes in Jackson Park (pp. 3- 4),  the National Park Service has not signed off on anything related to either proposed changes in recreational opportunities or parkland replacement (see p. 5). 

In brief, the City proposes that the existing recreational facilities and spaces on the OPC site would be replaced with new recreational facilities on the OPC site rather than with new recreational facilities for local users in new replacement park space elsewhere in the surrounding communities.  While such facilities on the OPC site would presumably be open to all, local users would be in competition with tourists.  Further, the OPC site would be privately controlled green space, maintained and secured by the Obama Foundation rather than the Park District, so access to these areas would be subject to Obama Foundation policies. 

Additionally, as the AOE report newly describes in detail, the City has renewed its attempt to designate the east end of the Midway Plaisance park as its preferred UPARR replacement parkland.   To quote: 

Finally, the City proposes to dedicate acreage as replacement recreation opportunity on the eastern portion of the Midway Plaisance bounded by the North and South Midway Plaisance, Stony Island Avenue, and the Metra railway…. The City proposes modifying the Eastern Midway to accommodate a combination of open space and formal play area.  In order to accomplish this project, the central area would reduce in size.  The western side of the historic sunken lawn would be altered with the addition of a play area and walks….”   (p. 4)

As the AOE report makes clear on  pp. 23-24, this  newly detailed proposal for a  play area on the east end of the Midway would have an adverse impact on the Midway, itself an historic landmarked park .  Still to be decided by NPS is exactly how much replacement parkland is required  to compensate for the turnover of park space for the OPC.   There is mention of a future public process to address these issues, but no details of the timing or format.

Responses by some key actors

Predictably, and in keeping with its style of  media management, the Obama Foundation has said all is well — we expected this, no design changes needed — and in fact has touted the resumption of the federal review process as a victory.  Their response can be seen most fully in the Hyde Park Herald’s 7/29 article commenting on the AOE release.  How well this continuing refusal to compromise on anything of significance will work for the Obama Foundation is yet to be seen.

In keeping with her approach to the many major issues she is confronting, Mayor Lightfoot has taken a measured approach, emphasizing listening to community voices.  It is for this reason that we strongly urge participation in the public meeting on the AOE that will be held Monday evening August 5 from 6 to 8 pm at the Logan Center on the U Chicago campus  (915 E. 60th Street, first-floor theater ). The meeting will begin with a formal presentation and Q&A session in the auditorium, followed by a poster session in the lobby with staff to field additional questions and take comments.  The extent of participation and the comments by participants will be of great interest to Mayor Lightfoot and her administration.  We urge people to be there are to voice their questions and concerns.

Jackson Park Watch Update – July 29, 2019

Greetings, all!

SAVE THE DATE!! — FEDERAL REVIEWS TO RESUME MONDAY, AUGUST 5.

The City recently announced that the Section 106 review will resume on August 5 after a long hiatus. The August 5 meetings will consider the very important “Assessment of Effects” report (AOE), that has been released today, July 29.  The AOE report is now available on the City’s website in the box for July 29, 2019 under “Key Federal Review Milestones.”  

There will be two meetings on Monday, August 5, both at the University of Chicago Logan Center (915 E. 60th Street) and both covering the same material:

  • From 3 to 5 pm, representatives of the designated Consulting Parties will meet together with staff to allow ample time for questions and discussion.
  • From 6 to 8 pm, there will be a public meeting, open to all, in the first-floor theater

We hope that this new format will both allow more meaningful input from Consulting Parties and also a much better opportunity for genuine public input.

We urge you to put this meeting on your calendar and to plan to be there.  This will be the first public meeting related to the Obama Presidential Center since Mayor Lightfoot took office and your participation will send her and her administration an important message about the on-going public interest in this significant undertaking.

What is the “AOE” and why does it matter?

The AOE report is part of the review required by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act to assess the potentially adverse effects (if any) of the proposed Obama Presidential Center and related road changes on historic properties in Jackson Park and the near neighborhoods.  In fact, a key purpose of the Section 106 review is to “seek ways to avoid, minimize or mitigate any adverse effects on historic properties” [36 CFR 800.1(a)].

What is an “adverse effect”?

Technically, an adverse effect occurs when “an undertaking [i.e., the construction of the OPC, the execution of the proposed road changes] may alter, directly or indirectly, any of the characteristics of a historic property that qualify the property for inclusion in the National Register in a manner that would diminish the integrity of the property’s location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, or association” [36 CFR 800.5(a)(1)]. Some examples of adverse effects are altering a property in a way that changes “the character of the property’s use or physical features within the property’s setting that contribute to its historic significance,” or that introduce “visual, atmospheric or audible elements that diminish the integrity of the property’s significant historic features.”  Things that come to mind are, for example, eliminating all Olmsted landscape design features on the OPC site, closing Cornell Drive between 59th and 63rd streets, and erecting a twenty-three story building in the park.

What kind of review will occur?

The draft AOE must be reviewed and commented on by the Consulting Parties to the Section 106 process (JPW is one) and by the general public.  These August 5 meetings will be a very important part of this review process.  The City and FHWA must consider all comments, questions, suggestions, and objections raised during these meetings.  There will also be a thirty-day period for written comments, questions, suggestions, and objections starting today, the day the AOE is made public. Written comments should be sent to Abby Monroe at the Department of Planning and Development, Abby.Monroe@cityofchicago.org. The deadline for submission of written comments will be August 30.  These, too, will have to be considered. 

What comes next?

The City and FHWA may (or may not) make changes to the draft AOE in light of the comments they receive.  Following this, there will be meetings between the City and FHWA on the one hand and the Consulting Parties on the other to attempt to reach agreement on “mitigation measures” to avoid, minimize, or lessen any adverse effects on Jackson Park and the near neighborhoods.  The results of the discussions will ultimately be put in the form of a Section 106 Memorandum of Agreement, which the City hopes will be final this fall.

What does JPW anticipate?

Based on the federal review processes to date, JPW is concerned that the draft AOE will understate the adverse effects of the OPC and road changes on Jackson Park and the near neighborhoods.  It is for that reason that we urge all interested parties to come to the public meeting on August 5 to make their views known and/or submit written comments by August 30.  After we have a chance to thoroughly review the AOE, we will send out a further Update identifying areas that we believe warrant particular comment.

COMMUNITY BENEFITS ORDINANCE INTRODUCED

On July 24, Aldermen Jeanette Taylor and Leslie Hairston, responding to strong constituent sentiment,  presented the Obama Center Community Benefits Housing Ordinance to City Council.  The ordinance aims to promote affordable housing and minimize residential displacement in a 2-mile radius of the proposed OPC site in Jackson Park. The ordinance will now go to the Committee on Housing and Real Estate for review and refinement, before being presented to the Council for approval.  Given the rampant property speculation already evident in Woodlawn, it is urgent that the ordinance be adopted quickly and without dilution.

While Mayor Lightfoot, who expressed support for the CBA initiative during her mayoral campaign, has yet to comment on the specifics of the draft ordinance,  Hairston and Taylor note that they have enlisted 38 other aldermen as co-sponsors.  They see this as a model for development-impacted areas around the city and also as the first step in addressing the larger goals of the Obama CBA Initiative, which also include education, employment, sustainability and transportation. There was useful coverage of the ordinance in the HeraldSun-Times, and Tribune.

THANKS!

As always, we welcome your contributions.  You can contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via PayPal here; you can choose to make your donation a monthly one.
  • 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 checks from donor-directed funds sent to our fiscal sponsor Friends of the Parks at FOTP, 17 N. State St., Suite 1450, Chicago 60602.  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 – July 12, 2019

Greetings, all!

POP FILES FOR APPEAL WITH NEW LEGAL COUNSEL

Protect Our Parks has announced that noted legal scholar Richard Epstein will lead its appeal of the June 11 decision by Judge John R. Blakey to dismiss POP’s lawsuit contesting the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.   Epstein, an emeritus professor at the University of Chicago who also holds appointments at New York University and the Hoover Institution, had earlier submitted an amicus brief in support of the POP lawsuit.   Chicago lawyer Michael Rachlis, known for his work on land use questions, will serve as co-counsel.

A focus of the appeal will be the failure of the City and Park District to fulfill their fiduciary responsibilities as trustees of a public asset in agreeing to give the Obama Foundation, a private entity, effective control of the Jackson Park site for a period of  99 years and a payment of $10 in a transaction that raises serious questions of insider favoritism and conflicts of interest.   By making that decision without full evaluation of the Jackson Park site or of the costs to Chicago taxpayers and without due consideration of alternatives, the City and Park District did not meet the applicable standards for diligence that is required in such a transaction.  Epstein more fully outlined his argument in an interview with the Hyde Park Herald,

The appeal, submitted to the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, will be heard by a panel of three judges.  The schedule for the review has not been set.  We will keep you apprised as information is available.

COMMUNITY BENEFITS ORDINANCE MOVES AHEAD

JPW was one of numerous organizations in the 5th and 20th wards invited to a July 10 meeting with Aldermen Leslie Hairston (5th) and Jeanette Taylor (20th) to discuss the proposed Community Benefits Ordinance, officially titled the  ”Obama CBA Residential Area Affordable Housing Pilot Ordinance.”  Hairston and Taylor plan to introduce the CBA Ordinance at the July 24 City Council meeting.  The draft ordinance focuses specifically on the issue of affordable housing and proposes  measures to prevent the displacement of current, long-term residents – homeowners and  renters alike – as a result of the impact of the construction of the Obama Presidential Center on the real estate market in an area within a two-mile radius of the OPC.  Most attendees were strongly supportive of the ordinance.  Some suggested ways to strengthen it and others, including the University of Chicago, raised concerns.    While recognizing that they are on a very tight schedule, Aldermen Hairston and Taylor indicated that more such meetings are likely in the near future.

SCHEDULE FOR FEDERAL REVIEWS STILL UNCERTAIN

Readers will remember that the twin federal reviews of the proposed Obama Presidential Center plans for Jackson Park have been on hold since last fall; readers will also remember that these reviews must be completed  before construction can begin.  (For details on the federal review process, see  the JPW web site.) 

While certain federal agencies (the National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration) have overall responsibility for the Section 106 historical review and the parallel National Environmental Policy Act review, these processes have been managed by the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development and Department of Transportation thus far.  There have been recent reports that the next step in the Section 106 process –  the release of the so-called Assessment of Effects (“AOE”) draft report and related public meetings – will occur before the end of  summer, but no specific date is yet set.  The AOE report would present a draft analysis of adverse impacts of the planned OPC development on historic Jackson Park.  Once the report is released consulting parties and others will have 30 days to scrutinize the draft and  submit commentary, critiques, and proposed revisions.  This presents the consulting parties – including JPW – with the opportunity to argue for changes to the current OPC design that would have less adverse impacts on the existing historic parkland.

We note that Michael Rachlis, who will serve as co-counsel for the Protect Our Parks appeal,  has been and will continue to serve as JPW’s legal counsel with regard to the federal reviews and other technical matters.

We will keep you posted.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

As always, we welcome your contributions.  You can donate in three ways:

  • You can contribute via PayPal here.
  • 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 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 fiscal sponsor program manager.  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

Jackson Park Watch Update – June 13, 2019

Greetings, all!

Once again, a lot is happening.

POP: JPW’s review

JPW Update readers have certainly all seen the widely disseminated news that Federal District Judge John R. Blakey ruled in the City’s favor and dismissed the Protect Our Parks lawsuit contesting the siting of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.  If you missed it, there was coverage in a wide variety of Chicago media outlets including the Sun-Times, Tribune, and Hyde Park Herald

Some key points:

  • Given the importance of the public trust stewardship issues that the POP lawsuit raised, JPW was disappointed that Judge Blakey issued a narrow ruling based on a narrow reading of the 1970 Paepcke decision by the Illinois Supreme Court.  That decision concerned the permissible scope of judicial review in public trust cases. 
  • Protect Our Parks is almost certainly going to appeal.  JPW will once again provide technical assistance if asked.
  • Despite Judge Blakey’s confusing comment that OPC construction can now begin, don’t expect to see groundbreaking anytime soon.  Putting aside the Protect Our Parks litigation, nothing can happen until the federal reviews are complete.
  • Of note is Mayor Lightfoot’s 6/11 statement addressing the District Court’s ruling.  We welcome her emphasis on working with community stakeholders and the Obama Foundation to resolve remaining issues, of which there are many. 

6/11/19 STATEMENT FROM MAYOR LORI E. LIGHTFOOT ON OBAMA PRESIDENT CENTER COURT RULING

“Chicago is where President Obama discovered his love for community service, and the Obama Presidential Center will honor his presidency and inspire the next generation of leaders. The court today made unequivocally clear that this project may be located in Jackson Park, marking a significant step forward in this historic project and for our entire city. I am committed to ensuring that this community hub creates unprecedented cultural opportunities and economic growth on the South Side. I look forward to working with community stakeholders and the Obama Foundation to ensure that neighboring communities share in this growth. Toward that important end, I look forward to meeting with community stakeholders and the Obama Foundation to resolve remaining issues so that the benefits of this important project can be shared by all.”

  • JPW and others are asking the Lightfoot administration to “push the pause button” and conduct a legitimate community review of the OPC and related proposals before moving ahead.  JPW made that case in its contribution to Crain’s topical coverage of the issues facing  the new administration, #Lightfoot100 Hopes for Chicago (scroll down to find discussion of the OPC).

CBA Ordinance to move forward

A Community Benefits Agreement to protect South Side residents from displacement resulting from the development of the OPC has moved a step closer to realization with a joint commitment by Aldermen Leslie Hairston and Jeanette Taylor to introduce a CBA ordinance at the June meeting of the City Council. Mayor Lightfoot’s stated support for such an agreement is key. To celebrate this important step the Obama CBA Coalition sponsored an energetic and joyful forum on June 6, featuring the two aldermen and speakers from the communities that will be most affected by the OPC.

Piecemeal approach to the golf project not in the works

The Daily Herald recently reported on a new approach to the controversial proposal to merge the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses promoted by golf entrepreneur Mike Keiser, who asserted: “We’re about to decide that we’ll do it in phases.  We’ll go ahead with [the] design on South Shore until the other course is ready.  The holes on South Shore will be stunning.” Staff of the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance (CPGA) subsequently confirmed the intent to begin construction at South Shore in the fall. 

JPW and others suspect that this is first and foremost a marketing plan, intended to jumpstart the anemic fundraising efforts of the CPGA by showcasing the two new “money” holes along the lakefront that would destroy the South Shore Nature Sanctuary and infringe on the beach.

In follow-up JPW contacted senior Park District staff and was once again told that construction on the golf project could not possibly begin in 2019 for multiple reasons. Schematic plans are far from complete, necessary reviews have not been completed nor permits secured, necessary infrastructure to stabilize the shoreline at South Shore and to connect the two courses is not complete (or even started), and, key to all elements of the proposal, the necessary private funding has not yet been secured.  JPW was also assured that the idea of dividing the project into two phases for purposes of fundraising and construction, though once considered two years ago, was no longer an option as that would greatly increase the total construction cost.

Additionally, on June 12 JPW spoke to thePark District’s Board of Commissioners, asking that Superintendent Mike Kelly make a public statement affirming that work on the reconfigured South Shore golf course will not start in 2019 and that nothing will occur unless the community has indicated clear support.  Stay tuned.

Osaka Garden work raises questions

Work has begun on what may become a major rebuilding of the waterfall in the Osaka Garden on the Wooded Island in Jackson Park.  The pathway leading to the entrance to the Garden may undergo substantial changes in the near future.  Further, Japanese garden experts are mapping out major changes in the layout of the entire garden, including a new fence, expansion of the enclosed area, changes to plantings and the shoreline, and more.

What questions does this raise?  The results may be beautiful.  But we focus once again on transparency and accountability and on the need for community review and opportunities for input. Additionally, as was the case with the Yoko Ono sculpture (likely to be enclosed by the new fence), this appears to be a situation in which third party funders are not only paying for but  also planning and directing what work will be done.  For a public park, public input on major changes is essential, and the Park District Board itself should have sign-off on third party projects.

JPW has raised these concerns with the Park District and will be monitoring the situation. 

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

As always, we welcome your contributions.  You can donate in three ways:

  • You can contribute via PayPal here.
  • 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 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 Nicole Machuca.  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

Jackson Park Watch Update- May 26, 2019

Greetings, all!

Happy holiday weekend!  We hope everyone is enjoying the spring weather that has finally come our way (or at least from time to time).  

Although there is nothing concrete to report, much is underway.  Here is a very brief rundown.  We will keep you posted.

Input to the Lightfoot administration

We thank everyone for all of the many communications that have been sent to the Lightfoot administration raising concerns about a host of issues related to the Obama Presidential Center.  Many are calling for the Lightfoot administration to take a new look at all of the plans related to the OPC  — its buildings and grounds, the roads, the golf course, and more. 

JPW has also been in touch with the new administration along with others who have been involved in the federal review process to raise concerns on a variety of related issues. 

Changes in top administrative positions send a mixed message.  Designation of Eleanor Gorski as acting commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development is a favorable sign, as she is knowledgeable about preservation issues and has a history of positive dealing with key preservation organizations.  Retaining Mike Kelly at the Park District gives less grounds for hope that the new administration may revisit problematic decisions made under the prior mayor. 

As noted, we will keep you posted.

Protect Our Parks lawsuit enters final round

Final briefs were filed by both Protect Our Parks and the City on Friday, May 24, on their respective motions for summary judgment filed May 3.  Once again, JPW provided technical support to POP as it prepared its final brief.  Federal Judge John R. Blakey has changed the date for the final hearing from May 30 to Tuesday, June 11, at 11 a.m.  He will likely issue his ruling on those motions for summary judgment at that time.  It is also likely that the losing side will file an appeal.

Donate

We continue to welcome your financial support.  You can contribute in three ways:

  • You can contribute via PayPal here; you can choose to make your donation a monthly one.
  • 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 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 Nicole Machuca. 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- May 8, 2019

Greetings, all!

Mayor-elect Lightfoot wants your ideas

Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot and her transition team are soliciting citizen ideas for a better Chicago.  JPW has learned that this input is taken seriously, responses are reviewed, and numbers tallied.  If you have not already submitted your views about critical issues facing us –the current proposal for the Obama Presidential Center, the costly and problematic road changes, the proposal for an expanded, PGA-level golf course in Jackson  and South Shore Parks –  please be sure to do so as soon as possible.

Some possibilities:

· In the Good Governance section, ask Mayor-elect Lightfoot to institute a legitimate community review of the proposals for the OPC, road changes, and golf course expansion and merger; note that to date “community input” has been limited and manipulated; ask her to ensure that the federal review process is careful and complete, without cutting corners or by-passing key steps.

· In the Environment section, question what the impact of the proposed OPC and its campus would be on the existing character of Jackson Park, its natural features, and its renowned birds; ask whether it makes sense to cut down hundreds of existing mature trees for the OPC campus, and thousands more for the proposed “professional level” golf course; ask for a careful analysis of the impact of the OPC on the surrounding neighborhoods as well as on Jackson Park.

·In the Transportation section, note your concerns about the likely adverse impacts of the proposed road changes throughout the South Side; ask for a complete review of the unanswered questions about the feasibility of the CDOT traffic plan; point out that the taxpayer funds that would be used for this discretionary set of road changes could be better used for many other projects in the Chicago area.

As a recent Sun-Times editorial noted:  “Lori Lightfoot campaigned on this. She argued as a candidate for mayor that ordinary Chicagoans — the people of the neighborhoods most likely to gain or be hurt — should have a greater say in the development of megaprojects like the Obama Presidential Center, “The 78” and Lincoln Yards.”   Have your say now.

New administration, new faces, new possibilities?

Each new Mayor brings in new faces in key positions.  Three top officials have been key to aggressively moving ahead Rahm Emanuel’s plans for the OPC, road changes, and golf course expansion:

· David Reifman, head of the Department of Planning and Development, ensured that the OPC and CDOT road proposals would experience smooth sailing at both the City Plan Commission and City Council, no questions asked, and also has contributed a key staffer to “manage” the federal review process that has proven opaque, rushed, and controversial;

· Rebekah Scheinfeld, CDOT Commissioner,  ensured that the CDOT would develop a roads plan narrowly focused to accommodate the Obama Foundation’s desire to close parts of Cornell Drive and the Midway Plaisance, and also contributed a key staffer to help “manage” the federal review process.

· Michael Kelly, Park District CEO, falls into a different category.  The Park District is nominally an independent agency, although all members of the Park District’s Board of Commissioners are nominated by the Mayor and its actual independence is questionable.  Kelly’s role in the flawed process of planning for Jackson Park has been outsized as well, and Emanuel thinks highly of him for it:  “There’s not a single thing I’ve asked him to do that doesn’t get done.”

JPW will be among those watching to see Mayor Lightfoot’s appointments after she is officially in office.  Perhaps along with some new faces there may be new openness and new views in some key positions.  That would be warmly welcomed.

Golf Course Project Gets Renewed Critical Attention

While formal plans for the golf course expansion have yet to be finalized for submission to the Plan Commission or other official review and while the cost problems mount, the project continues to prompt controversy.  As reported in the Herald, the debate at the First Unitarian Church of Hyde Park’s April 28 forum about the golf course proposal evidenced the strong feelings on each side.  A Tribune editorial, headlined “Give Chicagoans more details about the planned Tiger Woods golf course,” better captured the prevailing sense of frustration about the lack of straight answers and full information from the Park District and the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance. 

For additional useful information and perspectives on the options for improving the golf courses, we recommend two recent on-line commentaries by Bill Daniels, Jackson Park golfer and golf industry expert:   an  entertaining  summary of 9 holes in Tiger’s plan, and a comparison of Tiger’s plan with one drawn up earlier by renowned course architect Tom Doak (commissioned by the University of Chicago for its bid to the Obama Foundation, but made public only recently by the POP lawsuit)

Update on  POP lawsuit.

On May 3 Protect Our Parks submitted its Motion for Summary Judgment to Federal Judge John R. Blakey.  It asks the court to rule in POP’s favor and require the Obama Center to be relocated to another South Side location. The City and Park District also submitted their joint Motion for Summary Judgment, asking the court to rule in their favor. 

There is tight schedule for the subsequent steps in the case:

·   May 17 for the responses to these motions;

·   May 24 for the replies to those responses; and

·   May 30 for a hearing on the motions.

We will continue to report on progress in this important case, raising as it does key questions concerning the responsible safeguarding of invaluable public assets such as Jackson Park.

Sad news on Darrow Bridge

According to an April 24 article in the Hyde Park Herald (not available on-line), renovation work on the much loved – and much needed – Darrow Bridge continues to lag. The Darrow Bridge is the sole link between the west and east sides of Jackson Park for the six-block-long stretch from 57th Street to Hayes Drive.  It has been closed to pedestrian traffic since 2015, leading to far less utilization of significant parts of the northeast segment of the Park.