NORTH PARK — Some neighbors of the North Park Village Nature Center are worried parts of the 59-acre site could be developed — and point to a published legal notice as evidence of potential plans.
But despite much confusion about what’s going and skepticism from neighbors, a city official said there are no developments plans for the property — just legal maneuverings to give the land to the Chicago Park District.
Concerns over keeping North Park Village Nature Center free from future development dominated a recent meeting of the North Park Village Advisory Council.
The nature center is a preserve and educational facility that was formerly home to a tuberculosis sanitarium. It exists thanks to residents successfully fighting for a deal with the city in 1989 to keep the grounds as a natural area and not a shopping center.
However, recent events have raised concerns that the fight isn’t entirely over.
About 40 people attended a two-hour meeting Wednesday at North Park Village, 5801 N. Pulaski Rd. It opened with a discussion of the legal agreement — known as a conservation easement — that protects natural features of the property.
The skepticism comes against the backdrop of outgoing Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) forming a new commission to oversee the area — a group called the North Park Village Commission.
She introduced an amendment to create the commission on March 12 and it was passed by the full City Council the following day, drawing complaints from the North Park Village Advisory Council that it was an unneeded new layer of management.
Then on March 16, a public notice appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times saying the city’s Department of Planning and Development “intends to transfer to the Chicago Park District a portion of the property located at 5801 N. Pulaski Rd. … The property contains Peterson Park, North Park Village Nature Center, and surrounding natural open space.”
“Proposals shall include the general plan for the redevelopment of the property, the names of the party or parties making the proposal, the price offered, evidence of financial qualifications and capacity to complete the redevelopment, and the timetable for implementation,” the notice said.
The combination of the new commission and the public notice had members of the advisory council worried about the status of the current easement protecting the land through 2064 as well as their role as stewards of North Park Village.
But Peter Strazzabosco, deputy commissioner with the Department of Planning and Development, told Block Club the notice was required so the city can formally give the land to the park district.
There are no current development plans for the area and a transfer would not affect the easement, only who owns the land, he said.
“A public notice is required for any potential transfer of city-owned land. The transfer would enable the Park District to own the open space at North Park Village that it is currently managing through a lease with the City,” Strazzabosco said.
Still, the legal notice in the newspaper has some rattled.
“But there’s that notice in the newspaper and it was very clear what that said,” said Jac Charlier, a voting member of the advisory council. “There was no mistake and you don’t have to be an attorney to read that and say someone is moving something for some reason.”
One woman who attended the meeting said she saw land surveyors taking measurements three weeks ago near the North Park Nature Center recycling drop-off station near the corner of Pulaski Road and Ardmore Avenue.
She asked them what they were doing and says she was told an easement was going to be put in for a couple of corporations who had bought a property who need to install a road to access it.
“This is why the whole issue when it came up in March blew up the way it did. The whole thing was done in secret by Margaret Laurino,” Charlier said.
The creation of the new commission for North Park over a 24- hour period without notifying the public alongside the public notice in the newspaper three days later are an attempt to “neuter” the advisory council by Laurino, Charlier said.
Laurino had appeared at the March 20 meeting to reassure people that the new eight-person commission — composed of the ward’s alderman (or a representative selected by the alderman) alongside seven mayoral appointees from city departments like the Bureau of Forestry, the Chicago Park District and the manager of senior housing at North Park Village, among other groups — was not aimed at replacing the advisory council.
However, after she left the meeting, the advisory council unanimously voted to send her a letter asking her to get rid of her new commission. The letter was sent to Laurino and a number of other city officials on March 26.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Charlier asked Adam Roberts, a representative for Ald.-elect Sam Nugent, to take a copy of the letter with him because Laurino never responded to it.
Nugent was unable to attend the meeting due to prior obligations but Roberts said he was on hand to take information to her from the meeting.
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