Chicago Park District hosts first of two meetings in South Shore

Chicago Park District CEO Mike Kelly (center) and Fifth Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston (right) speak with an area resident during a Chicago Park District Jackson Park Framework Plan meeting at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Drive, Monday, Sept. 25. – Marc Monaghan

Staff Writer

Area residents in and around Jackson and South Shore Parks will have up until early next year to provide feedback on the current conditions of the parks and what they would like to see incorporated into the new South Lakefront Framework Plan.

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.

Additionally, the framework plan “outlines priorities and ensures that improvements are being done in a coordinated and holistic manner,” according to a slide presentation from the Chicago Park District.

The Chicago Park District hosted the first of two meetings scheduled for the week at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. Shore Dr., on Monday, Sept. 25, and is working toward having a draft of the new South Lakefront Framework Plan by early January 2018.

“One of the things that we heard from the first community meeting was that we were going a little too fast,” said Heather Gleason, director of Planning and Construction with the Chicago Park District. “We decided that it would be better to take a little bit more time and give the community more time to comment on proposals.”

The framework plan will first focus on the changes to Jackson and South Shore parks, with a discussion about Washington Park to be held at a later date.

“One of the things that we tried to do with these meetings is provide data on existing park systems,” Gleason said.

The goal Gleason said “is to drive data-driven decisions, so we’re sharing with the community, here’s what we know about the parks, tell us what you think about [the] parks.”

Park District officials provided updates on recreation, ecology, and programming in Jackson and South Shore parks.

Updates that were presented at the meeting on Monday were compiled based on feedback from the public during large-scale community meetings that the Park District participated in alongside the City of Chicago, Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT), the Barack Obama Foundation and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) over the summer.

Park District officials took stock of park amenities, evaluated current conditions, recreation and passive usage and linked it with feedback from the community.

“You see the evidence of the comments people made and the questions people had incorporated into the [presentation],” said Louise McCurry, president of the Jackson Park Advisory Council. “We’re at a good point.”

Hairston liked the format of the meeting “I think it lessens some of the confusion so that people can ask the questions that they want to know the answer to,” Hairston said.

Jackson Park Golf Alliance Chicago board member Al Debonnett (right) speaks with Friends of the Park board president Lauren Moltz (middle left) during a Chicago Park District Jackson Park Framework Plan poster session at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Drive, Monday, Sept. 25. – Marc Monaghan

Brenda Nelms, a coordinator with Jackson Park Watch, is pleased that the Park District is slowing down the process.

“I am delighted to hear that the Park District is taking more time to solicit input and respond and see how things fit together,” Nelms said.

Nelms, though pleased with the slower speed of the process, is still concerned about how the expanded golf course proposals and its potential conflict with the Chicago Lakefront Protection Ordinance.

The Chicago Lakefront Protection Ordinance, enacted in 1973, requires that proposed developments adhere to the city’s 14 policies for the shoreline.

The Park District also provided recommendations that include improving landscape/environment, water resources, circulation, recreation, structures and site amenities within Jackson Park.

Lastly, to establish a public process to guide the implementation and development of all future work in the parks.

Monday’s meeting was similar to the CDOT meetings last month that were styled like an open house.

The public was able to view a five-minute presentation video, which provided a scope of the current conditions of Jackson and South Shore parks and observations from the Park District.

Topics that were addressed on Monday include the framework plan process, active recreation, the current state of golf on the courses and proposed renovations, passive recreation, special events, water use and quality, history, arts and culture, and connectivity.

Area residents review posters on passive recreational use of the park during a Chicago Park District Jackson Park Framework Plan meeting at the South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. South Shore Drive, Monday, Sept. 25. – Marc Monaghan

“There are some water quality issues in the lagoon, said Gregg Calpino, principal landscape architect at Smith Group JJR. “It’s not a lot of water movement, so the idea is to get better water’s an older shoreline. South Shore has some sections that are in pretty bad shape.”

Calpino noted that the life of a shoreline is about 100 years.

Attendees were welcomed into a separate space within the Cultural Center.

It provided guests with an opportunity to speak with representatives from the Park District, CDOT, the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance (GPGA), and the Obama Foundation about their specific concerns or questions about park improvements and proposed roadway closures.

Park District officials this week will take back what they learn from the community and explore their recommendations as they continue to develop the new South Lakefront Framework Plan.

By early January, Gleason said they hope to present a draft of the framework plan to the public for comment.

The next meeting will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 27, at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave., from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.