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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

New Report Outlines City’s Plan For Woodlawn’s Development Near Obama Center Site

A draft report reviewing 11 plans for Woodlawn over a 15-year span was released Thursday, but residents wondered why some community groups weren't included.

City officials chatted with residents about plans for preserving affordable housing in Woodlawn at an open house Jan 30.
Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
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WOODLAWN — City officials released a draft report for outlining development in Woodlawn near the planned Obama Presidential Center site Thursday afternoon.

The report combines the findings of 11 different community-driven studies conducted over the last 15 years and is being released as the city prepares to introduce an affordable housing ordinance for the neighborhood to City Council next month. Those studies include:

The report recommends passing the city’s proposed affordable housing ordinance, building up density along the 63rd Street corridor and re-establishing the 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue intersection as a “neighborhood center.”

The report also recommends selling most of the 51 acres of vacant land the city owns in Woodlawn — 23.7 acres should be redeveloped into housing and 13.9 acres should become mixed-use housing, according to the report.

About 0.7 acres of that land should be preserved for “new open space,” particularly in southwest Woodlawn — the area furthest from Washington Park, Midway Plaisance and Jackson Park, according to the report.

Copies of the consolidated report were available for review at Thursday’s open house at Hyde Park High School, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave.

All of the city’s Department of Housing and Department of Planning and Development officials at the open house declined to answer questions, saying they were instead focused on hearing from residents.

In a statement, the city’s Department of Planning and Development Commissioner Maurice Cox said the report aims to highlight “the substantial planning work in Woodlawn over the last 15 years by multiple community organizations and civic agencies.”

“The report’s purpose is to consolidate local goals and ensure they’re implemented. This is specifically intended to benefit existing stakeholders and long-time residents as the Obama Presidential Center starts to take shape later this year,” he said.

A final version of the report is set to be presented to the Chicago Plan Commission Feb. 21. If adopted by the commission, the report would serve as an official guide to development in Woodlawn, helping guide land-use decisions and public investments in the neighborhood.

Combining the numerous plans for Woodlawn into one was needed, said Lisa Alexander, who serves as a tenant representative for her Woodlawn apartment building.

“I’m happy to be a resident of Woodlawn right now, and I’m glad to see the community grow,” Alexander said. “I would like to see all the plans come together in a sense where there is no displacement of people.”

Alexander said she enjoys the vacant land that surrounds her building at 62nd Street and Kimbark Avenue, as “there’s something about that land that gives me a sense of freedom.”

Alexander encouraged city officials to consider the “peaceful” qualities of undeveloped land and ensure all areas of the neighborhood have easy access to green space.

“Why does everything have to have something built on it?” Alexander said. “I know that development needs to take place, and I’m all for the diversity of the community … but I just don’t want every space to be taken.”

Vincent Cole, who manages Alexander’s building, said he was “still trying to make something” of the new report, which was released hours before the open house began.

With the new report’s goal of consolidation in mind, he wondered why it didn’t include input from 1Woodlawn among the plans and studies it considered.

“I’m curious as to how these two plans are similar, but they’re not meshed together,” Cole said. “They seem like two people with two different visions about the same piece of land.”

The Obama CBA Coalition’s plan for Woodlawn and surrounding areas is also absent from the report, as is the University of Illinois at Chicago’s September 2019 study on affordable housing.

The city’s affordable housing proposal was also discussed at Thursday’s open house.

Washington Park Advisory Council President Cecilia Butler said she’s “somewhat familiar” with the city’s recently released draft plan. At the open house, the Washington Park resident said she asked numerous officials when a plan for protecting affordable housing in her neighborhood would be released.

The community benefits agreement ordinance proposal — now on ice — would apply to part of Butler’s neighborhood, while the city’s recently released proposal would not.

“We deserve our turn. Washington Park wants our piece,” Butler said, adding that she’s “sure” the neighborhood will eventually be included in the city’s ordinance proposal.

Though she applauded the CBA’s wider reach, Butler is not a fan of the document nor the coalition that drafted it — she’s opposed to “[the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization] leading Woodlawn,” she said.

“I’m against the CBA, but I am for affordable housing throughout the city of Chicago, because that’s the only way that average or poor people are going to be here,” Butler said.

The open house came two days after the CBA coalition held a community forum on the new proposal. Coalition members encouraged attendees to show up to Thursday’s open house.

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