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North Park Advisory Council Tells Ald. Laurino They Don’t Need A New Commission To Oversee The Neighborhood When She Leaves

“[The commission] was created in a day. It can be removed in one day,” one members said of the dueling commissions.

Retiring Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) explains why she created the North Park Village Commission during the North Park Village Advisory Council's meeting.
Alex Hernandez/ Block Club Chicago
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NORTH PARK — The North Park Village Advisory Council — a long-standing coalition of neighbors and civic groups — wants Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) to get rid of a new commission she created to oversee the facilities at North Park Village.

Last week, the 50 people who attended the advisory council’s meeting at North Park Village, 5801 N. Pulaski Rd., voted unanimously to send a letter demanding Laurino and city staff dissolve the new commission at the next City Council meeting.

Members of the North Park Advisory Council are worried the new eight-person North Park Village Commission — comprised of the ward’s alderman, or someone selected by the alderman, and seven mayoral appointees — could overtake the advisory council’s role in preserving the North Park Village area.

“[The commission] was created in a day. It can be removed in one day,” said Jac Charlier a voting member of the advisory council.

Laurino’s new commission, set up to “plan, supervise, and coordinate programs and projects” in the village facilities — was formed after neighbors have complained about Forest Playschool using the 12-acre Walking Stick Woods within the nature preserve at 5801 N. Pulaski Rd. But Manuel Galvan, a spokesperson for Laurino’s office, said the new commission was not created in response to the preschool complaints.

Instead, the group was created to formalize meetings that the alderman and city department heads have been having for some time, Galvan said.

The amendment to create the commission was initially introduced by Laurino on March 12 and was passed by the full City Council on March 13. 

Members of the North Park Advisory Council say they were only notified of the North Park Village Commission’s creation after it was approved.

According to the amendment, the North Park Village Commission will “increase use of North Park Village facilities and attendance at programs, and…raise community awareness as to the historical importance and significance of North Park Village.”

Members of the existing North Park Advisory Council say the new group’s charter is “vague” and fear that they could bring music festivals to the park.

“We don’t need another body whose existence was put in place in 24 hours verses a council that has been here for years and is doing just fine,” Charlier said.

The North Park Village Commission will be required to give an annual report on March 31 to the City Council about “important problems, conditions or proposals” pertinent to the development and protection of North Park Village, according to city documents.

Laurino, who is retiring, attended the first half of a two-hour meeting on the matter last week and passed out literature explaining why she formed the new commission. She left before the North Park Advisory Council discussed their concerns.

Laurino said things like snow plowing, replacing outdoor lighting, landscaping maintenance and other issues in North Park Village have long been handled by an informal group of city department representatives on an ad-hoc basis.

Because she’s retiring, she doesn’t want to “leave it to chance” that this important work gets done. The new commission, made up of folks from city departments like the Bureau of Forestry, the Chicago Park District and the manager of senior housing at North Park Village, will make sure everything is taken care of, Laurino said.

“This is certainly not something that we’re looking to do to recreate your advisory council because we actually appreciate all the fine work that happens here,” Laurino said.

During her presentation, Laurino also said the Commission on Chicago Landmarks recommended on Feb. 7 that some of the buildings in North Park Village that were once part of the tuberculosis sanitarium be added to the National Register of Historic Places.

This would add another layer of protection to North Park Village as any changes to buildings on the registry would need to be reviewed by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, Laurino said.

Despite these reassurances, members of the Advisory Council were still wary of the new commission. In addition to dissolving the current commission, they want any new commission to be put on hold until a new alderman is elected to the 39th Ward seat.

Committee created to address preschool complaints

During last week’s meeting, the North Park Advisory Council created their own new committee to address complaints from neighbors about the The Forest Playschool operating in the Walking Stick Woods.

Nancy Katz said, who lives in the senior housing complex at North Park Village, said in a letter read aloud that she has at times seen the preschool use fires to cook lunch outside.

“This is not an area for open fires,” Katz wrote in a letter addressing the council. “In the complex we were told we are not allowed to have a barbecue because of the danger of the fire.”

Katz described the village center as the “backyard” of the senior housing complex and the children in the woods are driving its 700 residents “nuts” as they try to enjoy the final years of their life, she wrote.

“Already I have seen garbage. I have seen groups of kids chasing geese. Throwing things into the pond,” Katz said. “Did they come from the woods? I don’t know.”

Among the center’s many programs is the Forest Playschool — a nature-focused preschool program that holds class almost entirely outside in the Walking Stick Woods, a 12-acre parcel of land in the center.

Since December, a group of neighbors have complained to Laurino about Forest Playschool, an outdoor preschool, using the 12-acre Walking Stick Woods within the nature preserve at 5801 N. Pulaski Rd.

Earlier this month, that same group of neighbors appeared at a Chicago Park District Meeting, contending that the Walking Stick Woods area has “become unattractive” and that there is “unstructured play” going on there because of the preschool.

“Unfortunately, when the Park District held a meeting to discuss the school, the meeting was contentious,” said Sylvia Asllani said, co-chair of the Advisory Council.

Because similar complaints were brought up again by neighbors who live across from the school on North Central Park Avenue as well as by seniors who live in campus during Wednesday’s meeting, Asllani said the Advisory Council would create a committee to specifically address the issue.

Teresa Weed, Forest Playschool’s director, told the council her 19 preschool students are supervised by four staff members and volunteer parents.

Additionally, some of the complaints brought up were regarding older children who were in the woods on the weekend, which are not her students and not when her school meets, she said.

Weed added that she tells her students to avoid the seniors and respect their privacy when people who live in the complex are outside and gardening.

“It sounds like the kids picking up flagstones and tossing them are 10 and 12-years old,” said Mary Lou Jalachich, a neighbor who’s lived in the area since 1988.

The latest Walking Stick Woods controversy is nothing new — she’s heard similar complaints from seniors about children in the woods for the past 31 years, she said.

“The Waldorf School wanted to come here and the seniors didn’t want it because kids would be running around all over the place, wreaking havoc and making noise,” Jalachich said. “These are the same arguments.”

Additional details about the new committee to address Walking Stick Woods complaints will be presented at the next Advisory Council meeting May 15.

The current nature center in North Park exists thanks to residents successfully fighting for a deal with the city in 1989 to preserve the former tuberculosis sanatorium as a nature preserve, according to the Chicago Reader.

The North Park Village Nature Center, a 58.54-acre nature preserve and educational facility that was formerly home to a tuberculosis sanitarium.

“People in the neighborhood came together working with the city and the aldermen to make sure that this site was preserved and not bulldozed,” Joel Bookman said, a former executive director of the North River Commission.

That fight led to a conservation easement protecting the land through at least 2064.

Bookman was on hand Wednesday to give a brief history of how the Advisory Council was instrumental in fighting to preserve the area as a nature center when the city wanted to develop the land into high rises, convenience stores and parking lots.

Since its creation, the Advisory Council aims to gather input and foster discussion among area neighbors, stakeholders and civic groups about North Park Village and provide advice to the alderman and city departments.

While there are sometimes disagreements, by and large Advisory Committee members work well together to preserve the nature preserve’s 46 acres and that has led to “consistent improvements” to North Park Village, he said.

Related coverage

Preschool Dedicated To Letting Kids Play In The Woods Delights Students — But Annoys Some Neighbors

After Fighting The City To Save North Park Woods 30 Years Ago, Neighbors Take Up A New Battle — Against Preschool

After Complaints About Preschoolers In The Woods, Laurino Creates Commission To Oversee North Park Village Nature Center

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