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Point Preservation Study Authorized

Congress’ first override of a veto by President Bush also constitutes a major victory for Hyde Parkers fighting city plans for Promontory Point.

The federal Water Resources Development Act enacted Thursday over Bush’s veto includes authorization of funding for a third-party review of plans to renovate the limestone revetment at the Point, the lakefront park running from 53rd to 57th Streets.

Authorization is the legislative precondition for appropriation, said Don Lamb of the Commmunity Task Force for Promontory Point, who said he expects the funds to be appropriated next year.

The planning review will be conducted by Horace Foxall, a preservation expert for the Seattle District of the Army Corps of Engineers, and must meet federal preservation standards.

One item of interest will be the shoaling of sand that is actually creating a small beachhead on the north side of the Point, where the city had claimed extensive erosion, Lamb said.

Since 2001 the Task Force has fought plans by the city and Chicago Park District to replace the limestone revetment with a concrete structure. The group raised funds to conduct engineering and architectural studies which identified inaccuracies in the engineering work done to support the city’s plan and argued for the viability of a preservation approach.

After Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. backed the Task Force’s position, the city proposed a adding limestone steps to the proposed concrete revetment. But after Sen. Barack Obama was elected in 2006, the two legislators sponsored negotiations which led to agreement on the proposal for a third-party independent review “to assess the current state of the revetment…and independently provide alternatives for the historic preservation of Promontory Point.”

Since the park district had earlier requested and been granted a determination that the Point was eligible for federal landmark status, any repair work has to be consistent with the U.S. Interior Department’s standards for preservation, Lamb said. The plans by the city and park district “were completely inconsistent with those standards,” he said.

“This is a milestone in a long process,” Lamb said, saluting the staffs of Jackson and Obama for their “sustained commitment to bringing about a solution that the community wants and that’s consistent with preservation.”

‘No’ to Olympics in Jackson Park

The Jackson Park Advisory Council, which voted last month against siting Olympic venues in the park, will hold a public meeting with the Chicago 2016 Olympic committee’s new community representative September 10.

The Council has never been consulted about Chicago 2016 plans to site field hockey competitions in heavily-used soccer fields south of the Jackson Park lagoon, said Ross Petersen.

JPAC voted at its July meeting to oppose “as ill-advised and inappropriate the siting of Olympic venues in Jackson Park.”

Petersen estimates that several thousand people use the soccer fields each weekend for AYSO, high school, and Latin American league games. The Olympics “would displace a solid group of established users, and limit or prevent access to a large area for up to three years” – including preparation and restoration time – he said.

The Olympic venue would also threaten sensitive natural areas that border the fields, he said. The Bobolinks Meadows and Woods feature dozens of tall grass and wildflower species native to Illinois woodlands, supporting a wide variety of birds and other wildlife. The nature sanctuary is now a restricted area for birding, walking, and nature study.

Petersen suggested that rather than taking over an existing park, the Olympics should consider sites like the now-vacant former USX steel mill south of 79th Street on the lake, where new parkland has been proposed.

Following what Petersen said were numerous invitations from the JPAC, Chicago 2016 is sending its new community representative, Gyata Kimmons, to discuss plans and answer questions at JPAC’s monthly meeting, Monday, September 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jackson Park fieldhouse, 6401 S. Stony Island.

Meanwhile, the parks committee of the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference met with a Chicago Parks District representative on August 21, committee chair Gary Ossewaarde reported.

HPKCC leaders noted community concerns about “continuing lack of community involvement” and “strong fears and opposition” from many community members, reflecting specific questions as well as “the feeling that giving Washington and Jackson Parks to the Olympics violated the public trust and the purpose of the parks, and took what belongs to the citizens,” according to Ossewaarde.

HPKCC has not taken a position on Olympic committee proposals for local parks.

Washington Park and the Olympics

Not everyone around Washington Park supports building a 90,000-seat temporary stadium there to accommodate the 2016 Olympics if they come to Chicago, according to Cecelia Butler, president of the Washington Park Advisory Council. But there is a broad community consensus on what Washington Park and the surrounding community need – “with or without the Olympics,” she said.

Residents of the communities surrounding the park – Washington Park, Grand Boulevard, Kenwood, Hyde Park, and Woodlawn – have been meeting since last fall to discuss prospects for the Olympics, and the advisory council created a separate Washington Park Olympic Committee because of heightened interest, Butler said.

The committee has come up with a 26-point plan to articulate community goals regarding the Olympics. “We asked each other, what would it take for you to support the Olympics?” Butler explained.

Some items are long-standing requests as simple as a pedestrian crosswalk across 55th Street, and improved lighting, safety and sewers in and around the park.

The meat of the plan has to do with economic and community development – “jobs, jobs, and more jobs”; greater access to job training and apprenticeships through City Colleges; business development; and support for cooperative housing so current residents can afford to stay in the neighborhood.

Indeed, that’s one reason Butler herself is supporting the stadium proposal – she sees it as an opportunity to bring badly needed resources to the community, and especially its young people.

Another reason is civic pride: “This is Washington Park’s opportunity to showcase itself to the world,” she said. “Should we say we don’t want to share our park?”

But residents and park users are also calling for guarantees that the park, its history, and its current users are respected. They want assurances that all programs within the park will be maintained, along with the park’s historic landmark status and the Bud Billiken Day Parade. Soccer, cricket and ballplayers who now use the fields of the park’s Harold Washington Common Ground should have their fees reduced or eliminated if they are required to move, they say.

And the committee wants assurances that the Olympic stadium will be immediately dismantled after the games, the park’s green space restored, and control of the remaining 5,000-seat ampitheater shared, with profits supporting programs in Washington Park.

The committee is calling for a community benefits agreement with the Chicago Olympic Committee, and they want a seat on the Olympic Committee as well.

The plan is a “work in progress,” Butler said; they have dropped proposals for underground parking and for moving the stadium site to another part of the park; more recently, learning that the city has no indoor fieldhouses, the committee has been discussing a proposal to use the National Guard’s General Jones Armory at 52nd and Cottage for an indoor track facility.

The plan is being shared with the Mayor’s Office and the Olympic Committee, Butler said, “to help them understand that this is what the community needs” in order to “make us feel like we’re part of the process.” A long-time organizer, she notes with some relish that “we’ve got years and years to work on this.”

Community Plan for South Lakefront

With new marinas being proposed and private efforts to develop a massive, former industrial lakefront site proceeding, park advocates are holding a symposium on a community consensus plan to complete the south lakefront parks on Wednesday, June 20, at the South Shore Cultural Center.

[Local groups are also holding a bus tour of the 580-acre former site of U.S. Steel’s South Works this Saturday; see below.]

Friends of the Parks and advisory councils for Jackson Park, Rainbow Beach Park and the South Shore Cultural Center are sponsoring a panel discussion on the community plan with architects, planners and public officials.

The plan, developed in two dozen community meetings over the past year, envisions new lakefill to add beaches, lagoons and open areas, with greenway corridors along the lakefront and connecting adjacent neighborhoods, and restoration of natural habitats.

It’s part of Friends of the Park’s “Last Four Miles” project, commemorating the centennial of the 1909 Burnham Plan by articulating community visions to complete its call for the entire 30-mile lakefront to be public parkland.

The current focus is on two miles on the South Side including privately-owned lakefront property from 71st to 75th Streets, the former site of U.S. Steel’s South Works plant south of 79th, and Illinois Port District land at Calumet Harbor.

Private developers recently submitted a zoning application for 17,000 units of housing on the South Works site. South Works Development LLC is transferring about 120 of the site’s 580 acres to the Chicago Park District as part of a planned unit development. And last week the Park District announced the South Works site was being considered for a new marina.

Parks supporters advocated adding parkland and reducing parking in the 83rd Street marina plan, said Erma Tranter of FOTP. “Otherwise the community that lives there gets nothing except increased traffic and environmental issues.”

She contrasts the “holistic” approach of the community plan with the “piecemeal” approach of developers and city planners.

The south lakefront symposium takes place at 6:30 p.m. at South Shore Cultural Center, 7059 S. Lake Shore Drive.

On Saturday, June 23, FOTP and local groups including the Southeast Environmental Task Force are sponsoring a bus tour of the South Works site, leaving from the Calumet Park Field House, 9801 S. Avenue G, at 9:30 a.m.

Completing Lakefront Park Plan

The first of three community meetings of a new plan to complete the south lakefront park system will be held this Wednesday, October 25, at 7 p.m. at The Zone, 11731 S. Avenue O.

The plan will also be aired November 16 at the Rainbow Beach fieldhouse and November 21 at the South Chicago library.

The October 25 meeting is cosponsored by Friends of the Parks, the Southeast Environmental Task Force, the South East Chicago Historical Society and the Calumet Ecological Park Association. It’s part of Friends of the Parks’ “Last Four Miles” initiative, which is engaging communities to develop concept plans for the last four miles of Chicago’s thirty-mile lakefront which remains outside the park system.

“We were looking for ways to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the 1909 Burnham Plan, which called for the entire lakefront to be public parkland,” said Eleanor Roemer of FOTP. The initiative “builds of a long history of citizens working to ensure public access to the lake,” she said.

A community design charette in May considered ideas for lakefront stretches from 71st to 75th streets and the section south of 79th to 95th street which includes the former USX site and Port of Chicago facilities. Draft planning concepts, which include a variety of alternatives, are being presented at meetings with neighborhood groups as well as the three public community meetings.

Community input will be incorporated into a consensus plan which will be exhibited at the Chicago Architecture Foundation this winter and at community sites. It will also be presented to the city and the Chicago Park District.

FOTP expects the planning process can serve as a model for a subsequent effort to open two miles of northside lakefront, from Hollywood to Evanston, to public access, Roemer said.

State Agency Threatens Lakefront Project

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency has threatened to withdraw support for the city’s restoration of Promontory Point if existing limestone revetments are replaced with concrete, unless the city can show factors prohibiting use of limestone.

Meanwhile negotiators from the city and the Community Task Force on Promontory Point have agreed to an engineering summit next month to address the feasibility and cost of a limestone restoration, and U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. has endorsed the community plan to preserve the limestone shoreline.

Federal legislation authorizing the Chicago Shoreline Reconstruction Project in 1994 included a memorandum of agreement with the IHPA stating that the form and material of the original limestone step revetment would be maintained, said Bill Wheeler, IHPA associate director. The state agency’s agreement was required because federal funds were being used in an area deemed eligible for federal landmark status, and project contracts require IHPA approval. Wheeler said the agency had requested clarification on the issue months ago.

It was the “materials issue” — limestone or concrete — on which negotiations between the Community Task Force and the city, park district and Army Corps of Engineers stalled several months ago, after progress was made in other areas, said mediator Jamie Kalven. Now an early January meeting between a city engineering consultant, Task Force engineer Charles Shabica, and an engineer hired to assist Kalven is planned, followed by a report from Kalven and a community meeting.

In a recent letter to Mayor Daley, Jackson urged him “to consider a full endorsement of the preservation plan for Promontory Point,” adding, “The communities of the South Side have acted strongly and passionately in advocating for this preservation, and it is a position which I fully endorse.”

Task Force leader Jack Spicer and the group’s preservation architect Frank Heitzman will discuss the Task Force plan for limestone restoration at the Landmarks Preservation Council’s monthly lecture series on Thursday, December 18, at 12:15 p.m. at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Woodlands “Audit” Charts Restoration Plan

Over 130 volunteers are surveying wooded lands in local public natural areas this summer as part of the first Chicago Wilderness Woods Audit.

Volunteers from dozens of groups in the Chicago Wilderness coalition are measuring trees and identifying wildflowers, assessing the health of local ecosystems and the impact of invasive species.

“Most of the woods are overdense with trees and invasive brush, which blocks the light that native wildflowers and historic oak trees need to survive and reproduce,” said Karen Glennemeier of Audubon-Chicago Region.

Human activity has disrupted the frequent floods and fires that shaped the oak savannas, woodlands, and floodplain forests of the region — and new management approaches seek to restore natural processes in order to bring back the ancient ecosystems that once thrived here, Glennemeier said.

The woods audit will help shape a 2025 conservation plan which will guide a major effort by Chicago Wilderness to restore the region’s distinctive woodlands ecosystems.

City, Army Corps Data on Lakeshore Unfounded, Group Charges

Key data underlying city plans for lakeshore reconstruction at Promontory Point are unfounded, a community group has charged.

The Community Task Force for Promontory Point is pushing ahead with a community proposal for repairing the limestone revetment at the lakefront park around 55th Street, despite official planners’ rejection of the conclusions of an independent engineering study sponsored by the group.

Coastal engineer Cyril Galvin found that a renovation using existing limestone was feasible and would be far less expensive than the concrete and steel revetment planned by the city. A final report by Galvin, including comments from the Army Corps of Engineers and city engineering consultants, was released December 7.

Galvin’s study charges that erosion rates of 20 to 35 feet per year predicted by the Army Corps in a 1994 document justifying the project “have no credibility” — and that objections from independent engineers at the time were ignored. In its response the Corps indicates the erosion rate was used to establish a cost-benefit ratio high enough to warrant federal funding.

Instead, Galvin found “a remarkable deposit of sediment” around the Point, with water levels which were 15 feet or more in the 1920s reduced to 2 to 6 feet today, further strengthening and supporting the existing structure. He said the city’s engineers were relying on incorrect water depth figures.

The Task Force study also challenges the city’s assertion that new limestone is not available from Indiana quarries and uncovers a city consultant’s 2001 assessment that 90 percent of the stones at the Point are undamaged after 65 years.

Galvin said the city consultants failed to document their assertions that official plans had been “exhaustively peer reviewed” or their estimates of the cost of a limestone renovation.

The Task Force has retained a prominent north suburban recreational access expert to work with preservation architects in fashioning a community proposal for the Point. “Universal access” has been a major sticking point between the community and the city — with the city using a unique definition, according to Jack Spicer of the Task Force.

“Everywhere else it means access for people with a variety of disabilities to a variety of activities,” he said. “For the city it means access for people who use wheelchairs to every level of the revetment,” thus requiring all-concrete construction.

The Task Force’s architects should have an alternative proposal ready within weeks, Spicer said.

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