NORTH PARK — Ald. Sam Nugent (39th) will ask the City Council to permanently protect North Park Village Nature Center from development next month.
Adam Roberts, a spokesperson from Nugent’s office, shared the news during a Tuesday night Zoom call with the North River Commission.
“We’re excited. A lot of hard work is coming to fruition here to protect that land. Ald. Nugent pushed to get this done,” Roberts told Block Club.
The 160-acre campus at 5801 N. Pulaski Road features a nature preserve, educational facility and senior housing complex. It was formerly home to a tuberculosis sanitarium.
It exists thanks to residents successfully fighting for a deal with the city in 1989 that in part keeps 46 acres of the campus a natural area and not a shopping center.
The city approved the original conversation easement in 1999 and set it to last for 75 years. Similar conservation efforts had already occurred in other parts of the country by then.
But this easement was the first of its kind in Chicago, according to Joel Bookman, treasurer at the North River Commission. Bookman has been part of the group advocating to preserve the nature center since the 1970s.
“This nature area really is a jewel of the North Side,” Bookman said.
The North Park easement was essentially a pilot program for the city in how to protect natural areas from development, he said. The city and state have since used the same conservation tool to protect other natural areas like the Hegewisch Marsh on the city’s far South Side.
Since first winning the easement, Bookman says neighbors and the North Park Village Advisory Council have asked the city for it to be made permanent because they feared the city may one day start developing the land into condos or retail.
And last year neighbors were rattled about its future after former Ald. Margaret Laurino (39th) created a new commission to oversee the area and a legal notice appeared in the Sun-Times announcing Department of Planning and Development’s intent to “transfer to the Chicago Park District a portion of the property.”
Planning department officials later told Block Club the notice was required so the city could formally give the land to the park district and this transfer would not affect the temporary easement. While this explanation calmed neighbors, it also reinforced their desire to have the land be permanently protected.
“We’ve always wanted the city to treat it like the lakefront and Grant Park: Protected forever as an open and free space,” Bookman said. “About 600 seniors live here and thousands use the nature center and park. We’ve always feared it could turn into a high density development one day without making the easement permanent.”
Nugent will first ask the city’s plan commission to make the easement permanent and then expects to bring the matter before the full City Council in July, Roberts said.
“We want to be mindful it still needs to pass City Council. But assuming that happens, we’re very excited,” Bookman said. “And we’re certainly appreciative of Adam Roberts bringing our messages back and forth to Nugent. He’s really been a great friend on this.”
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