Go back to square one on Humboldt Park building that was under construction without approval

No work should resume on the structure until all stakeholders have had a chance to examine construction plans.

SHARE Go back to square one on Humboldt Park building that was under construction without approval
Construction, now stopped, has begun on a boxy building near the picturesque, historic and landmarked Humboldt Park Receptory and Stable Building.

Construction, now stopped, has begun on a boxy building (left) near the picturesque, historic and landmarked Humboldt Park Receptory and Stable Building.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

No one, confronted with a Gordian knot of red tape just to relocate a driveway by a couple of feet, would imagine someone else building a monstrous boxy building on park district land without a building permit or written park district approval.

But, then, this is Chicago.

Near to the picturesque, historic and landmarked Humboldt Park Receptory and Stable Building, an ugly structure has unexpectedly sprung up like a mushroom after a rainstorm. Community members were not consulted. The building is far larger — and different — than called for in plans submitted to obtain a $750,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Plans were not submitted to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks Permit Review Committee.

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Fortunately, the city has put a stop to construction for now. Good. No work should resume until all stakeholders have had a chance to examine construction plans — the real ones. If the stakeholders insist on a more architecturally-fitting building, or no building at all, that is what should happen. Circumventing the full approval process should not confer any kind of advantage.

“The park district has told them to start over and create real architectural drawings by real experts and go through a formal process to see if it would pass muster,” Friends of the Parks Executive Director Juanita Irizzary told us.

What’s happened here is surely not some kind of innocent mistake. Former Ald. Billy Ocasio is president and chief executive director of the highly regarded National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, which is putting up the building as an adjunct to space it leases in the Humboldt Park Receptory and Stable. Ocasio knows the rules, or ought to.

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A full investigation is required on the process that allowed the start of construction on a structure that looks so far like a dismal Soviet-era government building. Originally described as an archival facility, the far-larger building actually appears to be some sort of event space, critics say.

The lack of proper approvals raises concerns the building might not have been constructed in a safe manner, said Mary Lu Seidel, director of community engagement for Preservation Chicago.

“I hope, in defense of the sanctity of our parklands — and the lives and safety of visitors — they do have to tear it down,” Seidel said.

Chicagoans strolling through Humboldt Park looking for refuge from a busy urban environment should not be confronted with an eyesore that did not get proper approval. Nor should it be forgotten that open parkland is precious.

Redo the project in a way that enhances the park and city — or don’t do it at all.

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