LINCOLN PARK — Should the city put a large park in the soon-to-be redeveloped North Branch Industrial Corridor? Or should they cash in on the valuable plot of land they own there?
Monday is the last day for you to weigh in on the massive property's future.
The Department of Planning and Development will be accepting public comments on a two-decade plan for the Corridor through Monday via email at DPD@cityofchicago.org before it prepares a final draft to be submitted to the Plan Commission May 18.
The North Branch Industrial Corridor runs alongside 3.7 miles of the Chicago River and covers the land between the Damen Avenue bridge and Kinzie Avenue, including Goose Island at its center.
It's the first of the city's 26 designated industrial corridors to get a complete revamp in an initiative announced last year by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
But debate over the plan has become a battleground over the perceived need for a major new park in the area since Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) first made the case for the plan to include such a park late last year, soon joined by Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd).
Smith repeated that call in her newsletter to constituents Friday, citing additional support from Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) as well as the Wicker Park Committee, the Chicago Sport & Social Club and the Oz Park Baseball Association.
Smith said Oz Park is the only major park of 10 acres or more in the area and is already overburdened, with Little League teams unable to find space to play. She pointed to Wicker Park and Bucktown as needing a major park as well, and said the need will increase if the North Branch Industrial Corridor becomes filled with new condos and apartments, which is part of the plan released by the Department of Planning and Development in March.
The department wants the Corridor to remain an economic engine, even as it switches emphasis from manufacturing to information and technology industries. The mixed-use residences are projected to provide housing for those working in the area.
The department has insisted it's held abundant community meetings on the topic going back almost a year and even pushed back the timeline for final approval to allow for more public input. During those meetings, city officials have repeated that they were reluctant to seize a large parcel of land to create a park, and instead have suggested that smaller parks be set aside as part of individual developments, such as at Sterling Bay's Finkl Steel site.
They've also pointed to the plan's call for 60 acres of open space, largely in a riverwalk and a proposed wetlands park just north of Goose Island at North Avenue.
Yet Smith has rejected the riverwalk as insufficient to the community's needs, a position recently echoed by RANCH Triangle Community Conservation Association President Reatha Kay. They've charged that, just because the Department of Planning and Development has welcomed public comments, doesn't mean it has actually listened and accepted them into the final plan.
At the same time, the city does own an 18-acre block of land in the area, the Fleet Management lot at 1685 N. Throop St., which Sheffield Neighborhood Association Vice President Ted Wrobleski suggested could be the site of a major park. But Emanuel has already made plans to sell that lot in order to move the operation to Englewood, and according to Hopkins the city has been adamant about not reconsidering that.
In any case, Monday is the last chance for the public to weigh in. The final draft is expected to be finished over the next couple of weeks and should be released to the public in the days before a May 18 meeting. Smith, however, is already rallying constituents to attend that meeting in a final push for a major new park.