HYDE PARK — Local activists are pushing for a question to be added to this June’s election so residents can give more input on preserving trees that could be cleared to make way for a Tiger Woods-led proposal to overhaul two golf courses.
The Save Jackson Park group and other organizers filed a petition with the Chicago Board of Elections to place a question on June 28 ballots: “Shall the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District stop cutting down trees in Jackson Park and preserve the trees in South Shore Cultural Center Park?”
Voters in the 14th, 19th and 37th precincts of the 5th Ward can vote on the question if it is added to the ballot. The result would not be binding, but it could be used to gauge residents’ concerns about the trees.
Tuesday was the last day to challenge the petition, and organizers were not served with any notice of a challenge as of Tuesday night, said Jeannette Hoyt, founder of the Save Jackson Park group.
The referendum would give residents “a voice in the planning process for these parks,” Marc Lipinski, Southsiders for Trees organizer, said after filing the petition at the Cook County building March 21.
“Our issue here is that the residents have never gotten a voice into what is the future of Jackson Park and South Shore Cultural Center Park,” Lipinski said.
Woods’ design firm, TGR Design, wants to combine the 18-hole Jackson Park and nine-hole South Shore golf courses into a single, PGA-caliber course. The South Shore Nature Sanctuary would be replaced by portions of the new course’s 14th and 15th holes.
With the Obama Presidential Center’s construction underway in Jackson Park after years of legal challenges, the golf course project’s backers hope their plan “will be more front and center” in local officials’ minds and make progress towards opening after years of stagnation, the Sun-Times reported last summer.
But it’d be “undemocratic” to replace so much of a public park with a professional-level golf course “without giving the public a way to express themselves,” Hoyt said. “It’s not conducive to strong community building.”
Other activists have circulated a document claiming to show the golf course proposal could remove more than 60 percent of trees from Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses and the South Shore Nature Sanctuary.
More than 2,100 trees would be removed of the 3,352 trees on the Jackson Park and South Shore golf courses and the South Shore Nature Sanctuary, according to the document.
It’s not clear whether those figures are accurate, and the source of the document is not known. Park District spokesperson Michele Lemons did not answer questions Tuesday about whether the document was related to TGR Design’s proposal. Lemons also did not respond to Block Club’s questions about what report the draft map belongs to, the Park District’s involvement in TGR Design’s proposal or the status of the firm’s proposal. Block Club has not been able to review the document.
The Park District “is committed to replacing each tree as part of the project scope,” Lemons said in a statement. “The Jackson Park/South Shore document released is a draft proposal and any references related to reducing the tree count have not been considered or approved by the Park District, and therefore should not be considered a finalized plan.”
The Obama Center’s construction and related roadwork calls for the removal of nearly 800 trees by the time it opens. Now is the time to protect the other mature trees in Jackson Park and South Shore, Hoyt said.
Though the three precincts would only represent “a sample” of neighbors’ opinions, organizers will raise awareness about the parks’ trees across “a broader area” of the community and city, Lipinski said.
“We are the audience for plenty of rhetoric about climate change and environmental benefits of trees,” Lipinski said. “One would think these considerations apply here.”
Lipinski cited his work on a 1980s referendum campaign to expand Nichols Park as a model for a non-binding referendum that ultimately achieved its supporters’ goals.
“We have no expectations” about whether city officials or private developers will consider the referendum results, Hoyt said. “We are grassroots organizers, and we’re interested in what the people want, seeing as it is their park.”
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