More News on Obama Center Lawsuit, Federal Review

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More News on Obama Center Lawsuit, Federal Review

More News on Obama Center Lawsuit, Federal Review
Mar 30, 2020

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on May 21, 2020, in the lawsuit brought by Protect Our Parks (POP) against the Chicago Park District, according to reporting by the Hyde Park Herald. The nonprofit POP is seeking to stop construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago’s Jackson Park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The City of Chicago, POP contends, “abdicated and delegated its decision-making authority to a private party—the Obama Foundation—that operates without any public power, and has been wrongfully allowed to control and dominate this entire public project.”

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Jackson Park, Chicago, IL - Photo by Steven Vance, 2017

Meanwhile, After TCLF formally objected to several findings in the Assessment of Effects (AOE) in the ongoing federal review of the Obama Presidential Center project, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) asked the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), the nation’s regulatory authority on the National Historic Preservation Act, to render an opinion. Chief among TCLF’s objections was the AOE’s claim that the Jackson Park Terrace Historic District, located directly across the street from the proposed site of the Obama Presidential Center, would not be adversely affected by the new project.

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From the City of Chicago's recently released AOE, a simulation from the North Lagoon Bridge looking west toward the OPC Museum building.

Another point of contention is the golf course expansion project slated for Jackson Park, the plans for which have been underway for some time. The AOE claims that the project’s potential effects need not be analyzed, because “…while a golf course project was noted in a conceptual framework planning document (namely the 2018 South Lakefront Plan, SLFP), it is not anticipated to be completed or programmed (i.e., funding committed for the project construction) within the next two years.” But as TCLF noted in its follow-up letter to the ACHP, “…there is no applicable statutory or regulatory language that restricts reasonably foreseeable actions to those actions that are “completed,” “programmed,” or “funded” within two years of the undertaking. If that were the standard, then large, costly, and particularly impactful projects could evade the intent of National Historic Preservation Act by cleverly—but dishonestly—manipulating their schedules and plans.”

The ACHP will communicate its guidance to the FHWA regarding the formal objections in the coming weeks. The latter agency has already determined that the Obama Presidential Center would adversely affect the Jackson Park Historic Landscape District and Midway Plaisance, as well as the Chicago Park Boulevard System Historic District. The extent to which those effects would be avoided, minimized, or mitigated has yet to be determined and is itself a matter of dispute between consulting parties and the FHWA.