THREATENED: Federal Highway Authority Confirms “Adverse Effect” to Jackson Park from Proposed Obama Presidential Center (Chicago 7 2020)

“The Federal Highway Authority (FHWA) has asked the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) to review the authority’s finding that the construction of the Obama Presidential Center (OPC) and associated changes to Jackson Park will have no adverse effect on the Jackson Park Terrace Historic District.

“The FHWA is reviewing the OPC plans with the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In January, the authority found that adverse effects would befall the Jackson Park Historic Landscape District, the Midway Plaisance and the Chicago Park Boulevard System Historic District, but not the Terrace Historic District.

“The assessment of effects (AOE) found that, while the OPC Museum Building will be visible from the apartments, ‘the property’s setting with the visual and physical relationship between the property and Jackson Park and the Midway Plaisance will be maintained,’ thus not endangering its listing on the NRHP.

“Contrary to the findings in the AOE, it seems abundantly clear that the proposed OPC campus would completely alter the visual relationship between the historic district and Jackson Park, given that, since the time of its construction, the Jackson Park Terrace complex has enjoyed uninterrupted views into the relatively flat, sylvan setting directly to its east, across South Stony Island Avenue,” the Cultural Landscape Foundation commented.

“The ACHP, an independent federal agency, will review the Highway Authority’s Jackson Park Terrace finding. Adverse effect findings must be mitigated by some means before the federal reviews of the OPC plans conclude and construction can begin” (Gettinger, Hyde Park Herald, 3/23/20)

Preservation Chicago has been an active participant in this process and sent a letter in response to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation on March 30, 2020 which confirms that the Jackson Park Terrace Historic District would be adversely effected by the proposed Obama Presidential Center.

In addition, we listed many equally important core issues which are directly impacted by the proposed OPC in Jackson Park and which clearly fall under the review of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, but have absurdly been ignored or deemed beyond scope of the assessment. For a legitimate process, all facts, no matter how inconvenient, must be considered and addressed. Highlights are included below.

“Preservation Chicago is hopeful that the ACHP not limit its review to this narrowly defined single issue and explore the extensive concerns raised by all the Consulting Parties to this Section 106 review. To recap Preservation Chicago’s response to the January 2020 updated Assessment of Effects:

  1. When it assigned the City of Chicago as the project facilitator for this process, the FHWA created a significant conflict of interest having the Project Sponsor be the same as the Project Facilitator.
  2. We continue to object to the assessment that the Midway Plaisance, already a park, be used as UPRR-required replacement parkland.
  3. We object to the outright destruction of the Women’s Garden, designed by landscape architect May McAdams in 1937 in honor of the Women’s Building from the World’s Fair designed by Sophia Hayden.
  4. There is a false equivalency of replacement park being planned inside Jackson Park itself. Any recreational areas in and around the proposed OPC in Jackson Park will not be equally accessible as regular parkland – with restrictions during large events held at the privately managed presidential center.
  5. We strongly disagree that redevelopment of the Midway Plaisance parkland will be publicly discussed and considered after the completion of the Section 106 review process. Such conversations are critical to this overall project and should take place as part of the Section 106 review process.
  6. In its review of itself, the City of Chicago has not demonstrated real effort in identifying replacement parkland in and around the Woodlawn community.
  7. The 235-foot block/tower that is the proposed Obama Presidential Center will have a significant negative visual impact on every single historic property or district within sight of it. Historic viewsheds created by Olmsted and Vaux will be impacted from nearly every visual vantage point in Jackson Park and looking/extending eastward on the Midway Plaisance.
  8. The combining of the Jackson Park Golf Course and the South Shore Cultural Center Golf Course into one PGA-level course is in fact a reasonably foreseeable effect and should be evaluated as a part of this Section 106 process.
  9. The road impact analysis does not offer a complete review of essential data to determine traffic and road closure impacts.
  10. The current OPC plan does not adequately address loss of existing street parking opportunities.
  11. Tree removal was not included in the visual impact analysis done by the City on behalf of the City.
  12. We dismiss the assertion by the City that allowing these devastating changes to the Olmsted-designed Jackson Park allows for “evolving expressions” and “21st Century Analysis and Perspective.” Parks can evolve and grow to meet 21st Century needs without destroying their historic integrity.
  13. We disagree with the City’s argument that since Lake Shore Drive is already the widest road in the area, it will not be a problem to make it wider. With rising lake levels and sensitive natural areas like the South Shore Nature Sanctuary around it, making more progressive planning decisions about Lake Shore Drive is essential.
  14. Modification to the cultural landscape – individually and cumulatively – will have a substantial impact on its historic integrity.
  15. The City’s assertion is flawed that widening Stony Island will not be a negative impact because it will retain its “association of the road with the sidewalk and setting of perimeter topography and vegetation.”
  16. Cornell Drive can be modified to quiet car traffic, improve accessibility for bicycles and pedestrians, and restore the original character of this roadway without removing it entirely.
  17. Need vs. want. The Secretary of Interior standards clearly distinguish between need and want. The requested changes to Jackson Park are wanted by the OPC to make the Obama Foundation’s vision for the Center a reality. They do not demonstrate that this is the one and only site for its Center and therefore needed to make the project successful.
  18. The AOE continues to dismiss avoidance and minimization as important strategies. Going forward, this process should put high priority on avoidance first.
  19. The impact on the Chicago Park Boulevard System Historic District will be devastating to have an entire segment of that District irreparably altered.”

Read more at the Hyde Park Herald

Federal Highway Advisory asks Council on Historic Preservation to review Obama Presidential Center finding of effect, Aaron Gettinger, Hyde Park Herald, 3/23/20

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