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Promised North Branch Park Could Be Divided By Street Or Even River

By  Ted Cox and Heather Cherone | October 13, 2017 6:39am 

 The former Finkl Steel site would be transformed along with the former city Fleet Management lot as Lincoln Yards, but local residents are hoping for something more than the soccer field shown in renderings.
The former Finkl Steel site would be transformed along with the former city Fleet Management lot as Lincoln Yards, but local residents are hoping for something more than the soccer field shown in renderings.
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Sterling Bay

LINCOLN PARK — An alderman supported the city's sale of the Fleet Management lot near Goose Island on the pledge that any development there would include a six-acre contiguous park, but area residents might be surprised to find what the city's definition of "contiguous" is.

The City Council approved the $106 million sale of the 18-acre city lot at 1685 N. Throop St. and another five-acre site in Englewood to developer Sterling Bay on Wednesday. Ald. Michele Smith (43rd), who has made the need for a major park in the North Branch Industrial Corridor a critical issue, cast the only vote against.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd), whose ward includes the actual lot, initially held up the sale last month, but later told constituents that he supported it after receiving a written pledge from Sterling Bay to create 12 acres of recreational space, including a six-acre contiguous park.

 Ald. Brian Hopkins (left) expresses conditional support for the sale of the Fleet Management lot, as Ald. Michele Smith and Allan Mellis (right) look on.
Ald. Brian Hopkins (left) expresses conditional support for the sale of the Fleet Management lot, as Ald. Michele Smith and Allan Mellis (right) look on.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

When the actual sale went before the Council for final approval, however, language was inserted stating that a "contiguous site ... may exclude rights of way and the North Branch of the Chicago River." In government-speak, that translates as a park could be considered "contiguous" even if it spanned a roadway or the river.

Hopkins spokesman Christian Ficara confirmed that Thursday, explaining it would be considered contiguous "provided that there is a connection between the divided space. For example, if there are three acres on one side of the river, and three on the other, with a bridge connecting the two, [that] would be considered contiguous."

That caught local residents off guard.

"It is extremely important that the open space that is promised is indeed active recreational open space, available to the community with reasonable community hours and accessible by public transportation or automobiles with adequate parking," Lincoln Park resident Allan Mellis said Thursday. "The effort for community open space should not overshadow the overwhelming concern about disruptive traffic congestion and lack of public transportation."

Mellis had pointed to the "lack of recreational open space that can be used by the community" at a public meeting on the lot sale held late last month at DePaul University.

RANCH Triangle President Retha Kay likewise has been persistent that the area needs a major park, not "just an aggregation of little parks that add up to 10 acres."

Kay reserved judgment Thursday, while making the same point.

"From my perspective, I will wait and see how the proposed plans address the needs for open-recreational space," she said. "The more divided the property is, however, the less likely it will function as such."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel hailed the sale Wednesday, calling it "the right approach." He also used it to repeat his call for Amazon to open its ballyhooed second headquarters in Chicago, saying the site would be ready for an Amazon development on "Day One" if selected.

But the Mayor's Press Office did not respond to requests for comment Thursday on the definition of "contiguous" in the legislation.

Hopkins and Smith have both pointed out that the Fleet Management lot was the only substantial piece of city-owned property in the 760 acres of the North Branch Industrial Corridor, an area along a 3.7-mile stretch of the river between Fullerton and Kinzie avenues that is being thrown open to mixed-use developments just north and south of Goose Island. The city bought the property in 1990 from Proctor & Gamble after leasing it for two years.

Smith has insisted that, with the influx of thousands of new residents in those developments, the city needs to allot a major new park of 15 acres to the area so as not to overtax other public spaces like Oz Park.