Public comment period on adverse affects of OPC to remain open ‘til Aug. 30

Dr. Carol Adams, of South Shore Works; Lesle Honoré, executive director of the KLEO Community Center, (far left and second from the left, respectively) and others listen as Brenda Nelms, cofounder of Jackson Park Watch, speaks during a Section 106 stakeholders meeting. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Staff writer

City, state and federal authorities said on Monday that public comment would run through Aug. 30 to decide what mitigation techniques may be employed to respond to a city report that found the Obama Presidential Center and associated plans in Jackson Park would have an “adverse effect” on its historic integrity.

“We’re evaluating what impact our undertaking has on historic properties, and it’s a very defined list of circumstances where we evaluate does the undertaking impact historic properties in terms of its location, its setting, integrity,” said Matt Fuller with the Federal Highway Authority (FHWA).

As adverse effects were identified, “We have a conversation with the consulting parties and the public and we try to determine ways we can either avoid those impacts, mitigate those impacts or minimize effects to the historic properties,” Fuller said. He said properties can endure minor adverse effects while still maintaining a listing on the National Register of Historic Places, though delisting can occur.

Cautioning that the city was not specifically recommending these actions, Abby Monroe with the Department of Planning and Development said that updating the National Register listing, developing new National Register nominations for other historic properties within the scope of the assessment of effect’s review and developing other multimedia education materials through a documentation of the parks’ cultural landscape were on the table to respond to the finding of adverse effects.

“The location itself is not something that would change,” she said. “The city is proposing Jackson Park and the Midway as the location for these projects, so that is, at this point, what the project entails.”

Asked how adverse effects identified in previous federal reviews have been mitigated, Brad Koldehoff with the Illinois Department of Transportation said excavations, analysis and a data recovery plan have been employed at archaeological sites. In the case of adversely effected historic buildings and districts, authorities would work with consulting parties to determine the best way to mitigate “by perhaps planting trees to help screen; to do public outreach activities; to help document and put online various things.

“Parks are living things. Whether there’s a federal action or not, there will be modifications to parks,” Koldehoff said. “This is really an opportunity. If what is planned really is an adverse effect, then we want what can be done: What can you all tell us? What do you perceive that we really should be doing to help make the park a better place?”

The public is asked to send comments on the assessment of effects to Monroe at The Federal Highway Administration, National Park Service, the Illinois State Historic Preservation officer, federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the organizations and entities to be named in the memorandum have legal or financial obligations in the agreement.

Authorities will draft a memorandum of agreement regarding mitigation measures to resolve the identified effects of the OPC construction, accompanied by a fourth public meeting sometime this fall. There is to be a National Environmental Policy Act meeting to review the draft environmental assessment sometime this winter, with a federal decision due in the spring.

Public reaction was mixed; while consulting parties — identified representatives of organizations involved in the planning process — were instructed to ask questions of the authorities, many made statements divulging their personal views of the OPC, the placement of which in a public park has sparked significant opposition and a federal lawsuit.

“What really concerns me is, is this a precedent? Because if this happens here, could it happen at the Statue of Liberty should Donald Trump want to build his library there?” asked Jim Mann with the Rosalie Villas Homeowners Association.

Ward Miller with Preservation Chicago said his organization could not see how the OPC and affiliated plans “will not have an extreme and profound adverse effect on Jackson Park — its location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling or association; also its viewsheds, its quality as a single work of art by Frederick Law Olmsted … How all these historic features in this park could be remediated by all of these actions,” from the OPC’s Museum tower and other buildings to the widening of Stony Island Avenue and Lake Shore Drive to the closure of Cornell Drive, “an original Olmsted feature that was widened in 1960.”

“I think that’s tragic, and I think it’s going to be a huge embarrassment to the City of Chicago. This complex belongs elsewhere nearby,” Miller said. “We’re talking about a lot of trees being cut here, and I don’t even know how we remediate this other than a relocation of the Center or a rethinking of it elsewhere.”

Lesle Honore, executive director of the K.L.E.O. Community Family Life Center, 119 E. Garfield Blvd., was quick to respond to him. “At what point do we prioritize future advancements, jobs, over holding onto some historic things that were never going to remain untouched, when we’re talking about parkland?” she asked. Parkland changes, she said — erosion happens, trees die and have to be removed for public safety.

“By no means is this the first park that has ever been changed or improved upon or would benefit,” she said. “If we’re talking about his original ideas and thoughts and feelings, how inclusive were they in 1960? I don’t think they would have included the thoughts and feelings and the progression and the needs of a majority of the people in this room right now. So, some things in history need to be changed for the betterment. [I’m] just thinking that my kids’ hope is a little bit more important than how many trees, or whether or not we remove a street or add one.”

City authorities also reiterated their determination that the eastern end of the Midway Plaisance park, between 59th and 60th streets, Stony Island Avenue and the railroad embankment, should be the site of an Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery (UPARR) Act-related improvements. Jackson Park received a federal grant in the early 1980s funding recreation infrastructure; though UPARR is no longer in effect, any acreage — in this case, the OPC campus — that received federal investment must be preserved, hence the investment on the eastern end of the Midway.

The public process to design UPARR improvements is set to begin in the spring. Monroe stressed that there is no design in place yet, but the intention to invest in the Midway’s eastern edge is included in the federal review.

A public open house followed the consulting parties’ meeting at the Logan Center for the Arts.