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Lakeview, Boystown, Wrigleyville

A Day At The Park: Neighbors Camp Out On Public Land Homeowners Blocked Off As Their Own Private Yard In Lakeview

After Block Club revealed a wealthy Lakeview resident cordoned off parkland for private use, residents showed up to enjoy the public grounds.

People look on as artist Zac Lowing occupies the embattled front yard of a wealthy family in Lakeview, who planted hedges on Park District land, on Wednesday, July 1, 2020.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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LAKEVIEW — After a city official said a wealthy Lakeview homeowner was roping off public land to create a private yard, the resident countered that the space is open and dozens of people use it each day.

So a few more took him up on the offer.

Block Club revealed Tuesday businessman Michael Tadin Jr. and his wife, Natalie Tadin, planted hedges around the 3,000 square feet of Chicago Park District land in front of their home, according to an inspector general report issued last week.

The couple drew the perimeter around the space in 2015 — effectively commandeering public parkland for a personal front yard, city officials say.

A handful of Chicagoans floated in and out of the hedges that nearly enclose the lawn in the 3000 block of North Lake Shore Drive West on Wednesday afternoon, lounging and camping out on the grass.

Lakeview resident Diana Maes was on a walk and popped into the yard to “see how nice this patch of grass is.”

“It looks like it’s private land. You would never know unless you read the article that it’s part of the city,” Maes said. “I think that people with money can get away with things because I feel like they’re connected with the city somehow so they can do whatever they want.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
People occupy the embattled front yard of a wealthy family in Lakeview, who planted hedges on Park District land, on Wednesday, July 1, 2020.

The Park District has tried for years to force the couple to remove the plants to no avail. The city has been met with “unsubstantiated and conflicting explanations” about their right to exclude access to public parkland from an “apparently well-connected” family, Inspector General Will Fletcher wrote.

The inspector general’s report was first brought to light by Better Government Association reporter Alejandra Cancino in a tweet on Monday.

“The message that Homeowner’s hedgerows sends to anyone walking by his/her house is clear: ‘This land is my property,’” the report reads.

Tadin, in an interview with Block Club, acknowledged it is public land but said he had legal permission to use and maintain it. He also said he routinely gets letters from city officials about it, but each time “they come to the same conclusion that it’s city property and we did it properly,” he said.

Chicago artist Zac Lowing sat on his lawn chair and invited anyone passing by to join him for a conversation.

At one point, he demonstrated performative art by walking through the four-foot-high shrubbery that lined the pedicured public lawn.

However, Lowing said he hoped people recognized that there were bigger problems in the city, pivoting the conversation to the children who have been harmed by gun violence in the last few weeks.

“I saw people talking about the bushes and stuff and suggested about having a barbecue and I was up for that … . Then I saw another baby got shot last night, and I said, ‘You know what? I can’t celebrate right now,’” Lowing said, referring to a toddler shot Tuesday night in West Englewood.

“This spot might become something that will help people realize what’s going on. They’re all worried about a bunch of bushes, but if they put an eighth of the energy into trying to stop babies from getting killed, then there might be hope.”

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Artist Zac Lowing sits on the embattled front yard of a wealthy family in Lakeview, who planted hedges on Park District land, on Wednesday, July 1, 2020.

A man named Larry, from Woodlawn, walked past the lawn and excitedly shouted to Lowing, “You still here, sir?”

The Woodlawn resident was fuming about the political ties the Lakeview residents enjoyed.

“This is what pisses me off about the city,” he said. “I’m going to bring all of my friends from the South Side, we are going to barbecue and bring a bouncy house … . Since they’re not going to have a Bud Billiken Parade, I’m going to bring all of my people here.”

Maes had a similar idea, saying people should camp out on the lawn with friends to occupy it.

“There is a huge disparity between the North and the South Side, and if people can spend money to re-do a lawn that’s not theirs … there’s money that can go to change part of the city,” Maes said.

“It’s just very shocking to think about.”

In his newsletter Wedneday, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said his office fielded many calls about the inspector general’s report “and an ongoing issue with a Lakeview neighbor enclosing public space.”

Neighbors first complained to Tunney in 2015 and he took the issue the Park District, he said.

Tunney also shared some of the block’s history. The entire block from Wellington to Barry that faces Lake Shore Drive West was previously a convent for a religious order. About 15 years ago, the mansion and chapel on Barry were converted to residential use when the property was sold and the land around it was rezoned.

Tunney said he was not willing to allow for new driveways or curb cuts to be installed on Lake Shore Drive West cutting across parkland because vehicle access comes off of Wellington and Barry. The older high rises to the north and south do have curb cuts, he said.  

“While I have continued to contact the Park District for updates, I have not received an update in some time and continue to urge a resolution on this issue,” the alderman said.

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