Federal, state and local stakeholders meet at YMCA to discuss federal review process on OPC

Eleanor Gorsky, Deputy Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development, speaks to a crowd at the South Shore YMCA, 6330 S. Stony Island Ave., about the process mandated by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 that, in this instance, requires federal agencies to identify historic resources in Jackson Park that may be impacted by the planned Obama Presidential Center (OPC), proposed changes in the South Lakefront Framework Plan (SLFP) and associated roadway closures, Friday, December 1, 2017. – Marc Monaghan

By TONIA HILL
Staff Writer

Local, state and federal government agencies as well as invited stakeholders gathered on Friday, Dec. 1, at the South Side YMCA, 6330 S. Stony Island Ave., to evaluate the Barack Obama Presidential Center (OPC) and other park-related improvements and their impact on Jackson Park. The meeting on Friday kick-started a formal federal government review process.

Projects that are on the horizon in Jackson Park such as the OPC, accompanying roadway changes and related South Lakefront Framework Plan improvements call for a federal level environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as well as the regulations under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966.

Jackson Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Jackson Park and Midway Plaisance Historic Landscape District. It was placed on the list in 1972.

The stated purpose of the review is for the city, the State Historic Preservation Office, other federal and state agencies, plus the public to weigh in on and “if necessary, mitigate the effects of the projects,” said the city of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development’s website.

Friday’s meeting was the first in a series of meetings that will be held over the next few months. About 76 entities including state, local, and national government agencies and organizations were invited to participate as consulting parties for the federal review process, to date -50 have accepted.

One aspect of the NEPA process includes a review of historic resources under “Section 106” of the NHPA.

The two federal environmental reviews are separate but related processes.

They require government agencies and other stakeholders to take a closer look at the impact of proposed plans on historic sites, buildings, and other cultural resources while also taking into account the cultural landscape features, architectural and ecological resources.

The city’s Department of Planning and Development and the Department of Transportation are facilitating the Section 106 review in coordination with the Federal Highway Administration.

Eleanor Gorski, deputy commissioner for the Department of Planning and Development and John Sadler with the Chicago Department of Transportation, walked meeting attendees through background on the federal review process and timeline.

The federal review process includes a series of phases. The first phase included reviewing the undertaking of the roadway improvements, the OPC and related South Lakefront Framework Plan improvements and identifying the consulting parties. The first phase also included developing a schedule of when the department of planning and CDOT would meet with the public. The process is currently in the second stage, which includes identifying historic resources, determining the area of potential effects, and evaluating with consulting parties.

The current phase, Gorski said will last through the spring of 2018.

Russell Pike of the Jackson Park Highlands Association reports during a meeting at the South Shore YMCA, 6330 S. Stony Island Ave., moderated by Eleanor Gorski, Deputy Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development, about possible impacts to historic resources in Jackson Park of the Obama Presidential Center and associated roadway closures, that a survey of Jackson Park Highland residents showed that more than 70 percent of respondents supported the development of the Obama Presidential Center, Friday, Dec. 1. – Marc Monaghan

The timetable for the federal review process if necessary could extend through Fall 2018.

During her presentation, Gorski identified areas of potential effect (APE), which was defined as the geographic area where the project could potentially affect historic resources.

Archeology and architecture were determined as areas of potential effect. Architecture in this instance refers to buildings and structures, landscape features, sculpture/art and site furnishings, Gorski said.

The Illinois State Archaeological Survey (ISAS) started survey work last month within and near Jackson Park.

Survey work consists of ISAS staff taking soil cores and performing hand-excavated tests to “investigate potentially historically significant subsurface deposits or features,” said the Chicago Park District in a previous article in the Herald.

The project boundaries within the park are between 55th Street to 68th Street. The survey will also include a portion of property between 59th and 60th streets east of the Metra tracks.

The property included in the survey is likely the location proposed by the Obama Foundation for a two-story above ground parking garage, for the OPC.

Michael McNamee of the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council asks during a meeting at the South Shore YMCA, 6330 S. Stony Island Ave., moderated by Eleanor Gorski, Deputy Commissioner of the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development, about possible impacts of the Obama Presidential Center and associated roadway closures on the historic resources of Jackson Park, that estimates for usage of the Obama Presidential Center parking structure proposed for the portion of the Midway Plaisance on the east side of the Canadian National (Metra) tracks and the predicted effects of the parking lot on traffic flow in the area be made public, Friday, Dec. 1. – Marc Monaghan

Some in the audience asked Gorski to expand the area of potential effects to other spaces such as the neighborhood of South Shore and the buildings that make up the South Shore Cultural Center as well as Midway Plaisance beyond the foundation’s proposed parking facility site.

“Would a conclusion ever be at the end of all of this that the adverse effects are too great for the Presidential Center to remain in the Park and would it ever consider moving it to vacant land that is not parkland,” asked Lauren Moltz, Hyde Park resident and Friends of the Parks board chairman.

“We can’t predetermine what the outcome of this will be,” Gorski said in response. “This is a process for us to go through and to have discussions.”

At previous public meetings held in the summer months, the Obama Foundation said that it would submit its plans for the center to the Chicago Planning Commission before year’s end.

The Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday reported that the foundation would not be submitting plans to the Planning Commission for the OPC until sometime next year.

The foundation in May said that OPC will open to the public in 2021.

Ald. Willie Cochran (20th) and a representative from Ald. Leslie Hairston’s (5th) office and Michael Strautmanis, vice president of Civic Engagement for the Obama Foundation were present at the meeting. Cochran gave opening remarks before the start of the presentation.

A time and date has not yet been announced for the next consulting party meeting on the federal review process. The city agencies will host two public meetings to discuss NEPA and progress on the federal review process. The dates, locations and times for those meetings have not yet been determined.

In other Jackson park-related news, the Chicago Park District announced on Thursday, Nov. 30, that they will be hosting the next round of meetings on the South Lakefront Framework Plan at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. Shore Dr., on Thursday, Dec. 7, and Monday, Dec. 11, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

It is an open house style meeting.

The South Lakefront Framework Plan, which is an updated version of the 1999 framework plan, includes Jackson Park, Washington Park, and the South Shore Cultural Center.

The purpose is to create a long-term plan that incorporates a vision for improvements for the parks over time it also functions as a planning tool for the community and the Chicago Park District.

The last set of meetings related to framework plan was held in September.

t.hill@hpherald.com