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New Parks A Must For North Branch Corridor, Aldermen, Community Groups Say

By Ted Cox | May 2, 2017 12:06pm | Updated on May 3, 2017 11:50am
 The North Branch Corridor Modernization Plan will set a basic blueprint for development along the Chicago River for decades to come.
The North Branch Corridor Modernization Plan will set a basic blueprint for development along the Chicago River for decades to come.
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C.H. Robinson

LINCOLN PARK — Three aldermen and a dozen community groups representing 350,000 people have come out in opposition to the North Branch Industrial Corridor Modernization Plan, saying it doesn't include plans for enough new parks and open space.

Aldermen Michele Smith (43rd), Brian Hopkins (2nd) and Scott Waguespack (32nd) all have wards that contain parts of the North Branch Industrial Corridor, a 750-acre area running 3.7 miles on a diagonal along the Chicago River between the Damen Avenue bridge and Kinzie Avenue. The corridor is the first of 26 industrial areas citywide to have its plan reconsidered in a move that will dictate development for decades.

The aldermen, however, issued a statement late Monday rejecting the plan's framework as currently written "based on its lack of vision for critical open space and recreational facilities."

 Ald. Michele Smith has led calls for the North Branch Industrial Corridor Modernization Plan to account for a major new park.
Ald. Michele Smith has led calls for the North Branch Industrial Corridor Modernization Plan to account for a major new park.
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43rd Ward Office

They were joined in signing the statement by Friends of the Chicago River, Friends of the Parks, the Lincoln Central Association, the RANCH Triangle Association, the Sheffield Neighborhood Association, Wrightwood Neighbors Association, the Wicker Park Committee, the Bucktown Community Organization, Chicago City Soccer, the Chicago Sport and Social Club, the Oz Park Baseball Association and more than a dozen other park advocates, including former Friends of the Parks President Erma Tranter and Judy Johansen of the Oz Park Advisory Council.

The modernization plan has proved controversial since Smith declared it a battleground over the need for a major new park in the area late last year.

The new statement opposing the plan laid out the case against it, citing that Lincoln Park has seen a 65 percent increase in the number of children since 2000, overtaxing Oz Park, while "Logan Square and Wicker Park residents are even more park-starved." It called the North Branch Industrial Corridor Modernization Plan "a rare opportunity to correct that deficit."

The plan emphasizes that the North Branch Industrial Corridor needs to be retained as an "economic engine," even as it projects a shift of industry in the area from manufacturing to information and technology. It also would throw open the area just to the north and south of Goose Island to "mixed-use" residences expected to house people working in the area.

The opposition statement charges that the plan "offers a vision as though the Industrial Corridor exists in a bubble," without accounting for the effect those new residents would have on Lincoln Park to the east and Wicker Park, Bucktown and Logan Square to the west.

It also accuses city officials of hypocrisy in suggesting the area is amply served by Lincoln Park proper on the lakefront. It says the CitySpace Plan of 1998 acknowledged that Lincoln Park and nearby neighborhoods "appear to be well-served when considering open-space acreage. However, much of this open space is contained within [a] lakefront park that attracts visitors from the entire Chicago metropolitan area."

 Ald. Brian Hopkins and Department of Planning and Development Deputy Commissioner Eleanor Gorski at one of several public meetings on the North Branch Industrial Corridor Modernization Plan.
Ald. Brian Hopkins and Department of Planning and Development Deputy Commissioner Eleanor Gorski at one of several public meetings on the North Branch Industrial Corridor Modernization Plan.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

It states that the park "has the third-highest usage of any park in America," behind only Central Park in New York City and the National Mall in Washington, D.C., according to the Trust for Public Land.

While city officials have maintained there's been ample opportunity for the public to weigh in on the plan over the last year, and that the timeline was extended a month to allow more public comment, the statement charged that public calls for a new 15-acre park "have been ignored" by the Department of Planning and Development.

The department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Public comment on the plan closed Monday, and a final draft is set to be delivered to the Plan Commission for approval May 18.

The statement concludes: "We are united in the belief the City of Chicago must require a development of this size to include open space for sports such as baseball, soccer, ice skating and the like. To do otherwise is shirking entrusted government responsibility to plan for our communities." It suggests that "without government commitment, no such space will be attainable."