Few concrete answers at first meeting on Obama Center federal review

SHARE Few concrete answers at first meeting on Obama Center federal review

Eleanor Gorski presents the process of a Section 106 review for the proposed Obama Presidential Center site. | Rachel Hinton/Sun-Times

Delayed over a half an hour due to technical difficulties, the start of a federal review for the Obama Presidential Center drew around 100 people — with more in an overflow room at the Jackson Park Field House — to the South Shore YMCA Friday, but yielded few concrete answers.

After a presentation on the review process and timeline by Eleanor Gorski, deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Planning and Development, representatives from around 50 community organizations — called consulting parties — got the chance to ask questions.

Some asked about expanding the scope of the review — which currently encompasses all of Jackson Park and parts of the Midway Plaisance — to include the South Shore Cultural Center and the entirety of the Midway. Others about what the community’s recourse might be if the center’s impact was found to be too adverse on the park.

Those questions would all be answered in due time, Gorski said.

“Stage three is the time to explore some of these concerns,” Gorski said. “The Section 106 process isn’t meant to stop projects, it’s meant to mitigate them and assess the effects so that the best project comes about for the community while acknowledging that these projects are proposed and we need to address it.”

The review process is in stage two. Stage three, or the assessment of the adverse effects, isn’t likely to happen until spring or summer of next year. While the federal review proceeds, a review into the center’s adherence to the National Environmental Protection Act is slated to start “soon,” Gorski said.

The federal process is reviewing areas of potential effects, focusing primarily on the archaeology — which will include testing the soil of the park and looking at potential ground disturbance — and the historic architecture of the proposed center’s land.

Michael McNamee, co-chair of Save the Midway, said he sees the review as a welcome step forward. He was understanding of the delay in answers and appreciated the “transparency of the process.”

“I’m glad this process is happening and that it seems comprehensive,” McNamee said. “As long as they’re really going to try to answer all of our questions and deal with everyone’s concerns about adverse impacts I think this will go well.”

The site proposal for the Obama Presidential Center also includes plans for a PGA-level golf course, a controversial move that would combine the Jackson Park and South Shore courses .

Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks, found the session informative, but with no concrete answers as to how the proposed golf course fits into the review process, she’s concerned the issue will slip under the radar.

“Whether this is about the Obama Center or the golf course or both is still unclear and we’re concerned that this [process] may not ask and answer enough questions,” Irizarry said. “So we seek further clarification on whether this study is going to raise up all of the questions and answers related to the proposed golf course.”

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