Cultural landscape foundation voices concerns on areas of potential effect related to the Obama Center

Provisional rendering of the Obama Presidential Center provided by the Obama Foundation Wednesday, May 3, 2017, during its presentation at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Drive. – Marc Monaghan

By TONIA HILL
Staff Writer

The Cultural Landscape Foundation, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit, is voicing its concerns on potential adverse effects in connection to the Barack Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.

Charles A. Birnbaum, founder, president and CEO of The Cultural Landscape Foundation said in a written statement that adverse effects on Jackson Park include the imposition of a massive high rise tower, roadway closures related to the construction of the OPC, and changes related to the Obama Center go against the Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Jackson Park in the 1800s.

The high-rise tower refers to the tallest of the three buildings that will make up the campus for the Obama Center.

Birnbaum added that the area of potential effect should be expanded to include the entirety of the Midway Plaisance and Washington Park.

“The need to fully recognize the unity of the South Parks is now brought into greater relief by the current proposal to impose a parking garage at the eastern terminus and hinge point of the Midway Plaisance, effectively placing a further barrier to the connection that Olmsted and Calvert Vaux first envisioned while simultaneously reducing the likelihood that any future initiative could restore that connection,” said Birnbaum in a written statement. “Moreover, the OPC tower, as currently conceived, would adversely affect view sheds from the full expanse of the Midway Plaisance, not just from the portion of it now included in the area of potential effect.”

Currently, the area of potential effect does not include Midway Plaisance as a whole. The focus is on a portion of land that Obama Foundation is considering for an above ground-parking garage.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation is one of many consulting parties that are a part of the federal environmental review process that is mandated under the National Environmental Policy Act as well as the regulations under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

Last year, The Cultural Landscape Foundation, added Jackson Park to its “Landslide” list of threatened and at-risk landscapes. The OPC and the proposed merger of the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses, as well as the proposed above ground-parking proposal, were named as significant threats.

One aspect of the National Environmental Policy Act process includes a review of historic resources under “Section 106” of the National Historic Preservation Act.

Projects in the pipeline in Jackson Park such as the Obama Center, accompanying roadway changes, and related South Lakefront Framework Plan improvements call for a federal level environmental review. Jackson Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Jackson Park and Midway Plaisance Historic Landscape District.

The section 106 review process requires 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 first in a series of section 106 meetings was held last month at the South Side YMCA.

A time and date has not yet been announced for the next consulting party meeting on the section 106 federal review process. The city agencies will host two public meetings to discuss National Environmental Policy Act and progress on the federal review process. The dates, locations and times for those meetings have not yet been determined.

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. The city has asked consulting parties as well as the public to comment on the process by identifying areas of potential effects.

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 review process is currently in the second stage, which includes identifying historic resources, determining the area of potential effects, and evaluating with consulting parties.

During the meeting, last month, Eleanor Gorski, deputy commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development defined areas of potential effect as the geographic area where the project would potentially affect historic resources.

The current phase said Gorski, in a previous article in the Herald, will last through the spring of 2018. The timetable for the federal review process if necessary could extend through Fall 2018.

The federal review process has slowed down the Obama Foundation’s plan in presenting to the Chicago Plan Commission. Previously the foundation said it would submit proposals at the end of 2017. Instead, the foundation will give introduce the project early this year.

t.hill@hpherald.com