Bring OPC deals into public arena

To the Editor:

Only bad things happen when a project begins with conflicts of interest and back-room deals and then is dumped on the public.

Residents in the vicinity of Jackson Park are being driven out of their homes by impossible rent increases and condo development deals. Gentrification and an affordable housing crisis are accelerating, an issue that should have been addressed before deciding to seize public park land and rubber stamp OPC construction in historic Jackson Park.

The efforts of Ald. Jeanette Taylor (20th) and Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) are much needed to try to solve the task of finding a way to unscramble the exploding public mess for local residents created by those secret back room decisions.

The difficult situation hasn’t been helped by the refusal of the Park District and City to take seriously the legal issues raised in the Protect Our Parks lawsuit now pending in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and working its way to the Supreme Court. A decision in the High court to move everything back to square one would be the easiest and most welcome way to clear the deck and restart serious discussions about building an OPC somewhere else on the South Side.

The proposed Community Benefits Ordinance might well be an even bigger bureaucratic mess, rife with built-in opportunities for “Chicago style” compromises.

But Mayor Lightfoot is in a position of power to introduce unbiased reason to this entire situation. First, she should impose a freeze on all land and development transactions including lease changes, sales deals, development permits, zoning changes in the impacted wards.

Second, the City and all the affected interest groups should carefully study and prepare a comprehensive Community Benefits contractual requirement that would be a condition of building any OPC project on the South Side.

Third, the City should review everything that has taken place with the OPC project from its initiation. It should study the legal rulings when the POP lawsuit becomes final, and then it should make an honest and objective determination of what is in the best interests of the residents of Chicago.

All above board, nothing under the table. A great victory for Mayor Lightfoot and the people of Chicago.

Herb Caplan

President, Protect Our Parks