EDGEWATER — Morry Matson's proposal to erect a boardwalk between Edgewater and Rogers Park is a "stupid project," opponents say.
The same group that led the opposition of a years-old plan to dump landfill into the lake to expand Edgewater's beaches are rekindling their base to oppose Matson's "Edgewater Beachwalk."
Matson, of Edgewater, had launched a grassroots campaign to convince neighbors and politicians that a boardwalk snaking along the lakefront would bolster neighborhood businesses and allow more people to enjoy the lakefront that for decades has been cut off from the rest of Chicago by towering high-rises.
But Sheridan Road high-rise residents Philip Bernstein and John Redell say Morry's plan is just a reboot of Daniel Burnham's 1909 vision to have all of Chicago buffered to the east with manmade beaches.
"There's always been a push," said Bernstein, who knows a thing or two about civic projects. He said he worked as the chief of planning for the Army Corps of Engineers in Chicago for 15 years, working on projects like the massive Deep Tunnel.
They repackage the proposal, Bernstein says, but it's "basically the same — put dirt in the water."
In 2008, Bernstein and Redell waged "a hardcore war" against another reboot plan by Friends of the Park, which called for landfill to be dumped in front of Edgewater high rises to make new beaches and small islands.
The pair was able to get an advisory referendum on the general ballot for 48th Ward voters in the 2008 general election.
Nearly 20,000 people voted, and 60 percent marked "Yes" to reject Friends of the Parks' plan.
"People don't want this," Bernstein added.
But could a boardwalk, rather than landfill beaches, be a compromise?
"We think our plan not only gives people access to the lake but also protects the shoreline," said architect Thom Greene, who has drafted detailed plans — referenced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel — that call for the extension of the lakefront bike path from Ardmore Avenue to Thorndale Avenue.
The project would include a 1,670-foot-long stepped retaining wall to separate the beach from new landscaping, while extending the path for bicycles and pedestrians.
The plan also calls for a 24,000-square-feet dog park.
Greene said he and his partners know what they're up against.
"Once you get everyone whipped up along the lakefront, you get everyone saying, 'Not in my backyard,' " he said, but Edgewater's beachfront should be open to all.
"It is our lakefront, it is Chicago’s lakefront," he said.
Greene said he wasn't ready to release the drawings that depict that first section of the boardwalk.
Unlike Matson, he said, "we’ve been keeping our plan a little quiet."
Bernstein and Redell say it's unlikely a multimillion-dollar project like Greene and Matson's will ever come to fruition.
But then again: "We are capable of stupid projects," said Redell.
They want any money that would be used to develop the lakefront to go to other parks in the city.
They also vehemently deny opposing the plan to keep people away from their "backyard."
"You got this group of people demonizing people who live on the lakefront," Redell said. "We walk a block. We don't have a beach."