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Discussions on proposed loss or swap of Elm Park starting 2011, although this goes back to c. 2005.

Presented by Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference Parks Committee and Development-Preservation-Zoning Committee and their website Writer is Gary Ossewaarde.

Herald July 6, 2011
Red Eye July 7, 2011
Friends of the Parks Herald letter-what the law says

Elm Playlot, Located at 5215 S. Woodlawn, north of Kimbark Plaza/53rd on Woodlawn, Elm Park was part of a trio developed during urban renewal in the late 1950s early '60s, but unlike Nichols and Spruce there was no public planning input. It is small, like (but not) an afterthought from the planned Kimbark Plaza, and has no logical exit from the rear except an all-too-jumpable short fence, which has a few parking spaces, delivery areas for the stores, and housing. Its design also was poor, including bench arrangement and hiding spots that encouraged drinking, gangs, dope dealing. The HPKCC Parks Committee at the time (1962-64) was heavily involved in and negotiating design of Nichols and Spruce parks, and found it nice or politic to let the Park District design Elm Park. Elm Council (and HPKCC archives in UC Library Special Collections) have pictures of a team of at least three, including Barbara Fiske who was heavily involved with HPKCC's Parks Committee, holding a plan-model of the design of the park, and the Elm Council has a large copy of the plan, given c late 2010 from the Park District. negate the widely-agreed perception that mistakes were made in the planning-- and that the problems were made worse by problems of the condition and store deliveries in the alley to the east and frankly by at least periodic neglect by neighbors, organizations, et al.

Elm President Piotr Gornicki on Elm's Facebook page contests the idea that Elm's design is poor, and that it is proper to consider a transfer to private businesses:

The notion that Elm Park was badly designed is a serious misconception. It has a very sophisticated design, exceptionally well executed. Elm Park was meant as a complement and balance to the space created for local vendors and businesses. Both, the Park and the Plaza, have had their share of problems, but as the history teaches us, in the long run the well implemented idea worked to a great benefit of all local residents. Today, the Park is in the middle of a densely populated successful residential neighborhood. We need open public space. We need shops and restaurants too. Allowing annexation of a City park to improve bottom line or, as the business leader claims, alleviate their business shortcomings and fears is bad public policy. This idea should not have even been entertained. There must be a better way.
Piotr Gornicki, Elm PAC President

And, many like the "gazeboesque" feature in the back and like the bench arrangement for group reading (if benches not conducive to laying down are used). In response to complaints, in the late '90s Alderman Preckwinkle, the Plaza, park district, community organizations and others explored various options, including a swap to the plaza for parking in exchange for new parkland from the city elsewhere in the 4th ward while increasing landscaping in the shopping plaza's lot in front. Meanwhile, plans to remodel the park (plans of the park district and others developed by an architect for a small charrette) were aborted in the midst of these discussions. No resolution was reached and problems have continued. In mid 2004, it appeared CVS pharmacy, soon to be built at the east end of the plaza, would like to use or acquire part of Elm for parking but nothing happened.

Neighbors by mid 2010 formed a new advisory council and come up with imaginative reconfigurations and activities, held informational clinics on bikes and safety, planted a great deal (partly with grants from such as the Hyde Park Garden Fair Committee), and a neighborhood watch.
However word was given that loss of the park for a parking lot was again on the table. Enthusiastic planning continued nonetheless, including with a nice video.

The prospect that commitments may have been made by public officials to seek a swap of Elm Park (on Woodlawn north of Kimbark Plaza at 53rd) to the shopping center in return for parkland in Bronzeville-Grand Boulevard (c. 42nd and Vincennes) had been seriously revived in 2009, but nothing happened and neighbors formed a council and seriously fixed up the park. As matters on a swap progressed through the 2011 aldermanic election (Will Burns, the winner, was the only candidate who at a candidate forum would not commit on the matter-- the other 5 present opposed) and beyond, the council sought an answer, since the Park District naturally would not commit to spending major money in the park while there is any question of a change (note, at a Park District board meeting, commissioners and staff denied any change was coming-- and they have the authority under restrictions of state law, not the city), a meeting and clarification was sought of Ald. Burns. Mr. Burns said he would make no statement or decision until and unless there was a proposal on his desk. A representative of the alderman was unable to attend the June Elm Council meeting, but the council was encouraged to create a presentation on the park for the alderman. The Council has indicated it wants to keep the park but does not want to have a fight with either the shopping center or public officials or divide the community. Observation of this writer is that there will be many on each side.

Hyde Park Herald lead article July 6, 2011, Elm Park vies with Kimbark Plaza. By Daschell M. Phillips

Elm Park Advisory Council board members who have been working to beautify the park are anxiously awaiting the chance to show Ald. Will Burns (4th) their plans for the future of the park. the Kimbark Plaza board of directors is also eager to share its plans to exchange Elm Park for a parking lot.

At an Elm Park Advisory Council meeting last Tuesday, Elm PAC vice chairman Piotr Gornicki presented a three-year plan teh group intends to present to Burns. The plans include the installation of a 6-foot chain link fence on the south and east end of the park near the alley, the planting of modern trees and shrubbery and the installation of new benches.

"We planned to give th alderman time to settle into office before we went to him with our plan," said Elm PAC President Timika Hoffman-Zoller. "So we were surprised when one of his representatives came to us and asked us to prepare a presentation for him to review."

Since June of last year, Hoffman-Zoller has led the charge to revitalize Elm Park, which was neglected and overrun with drug dealers and people sleeping in the park, which is located between a tall residential building and Kimbark Plaza. Hoffman-Zoller and several community members established a park advisory council and began meeting in the park weekly to clean up trash, plant bulbs and host events such as bike clinics and walking groups.

Mae Wilson, who was chief of staff to former 4th Ward Ald. Toni Preckwinkle, told Hoffman-Zoller that the Kimbark Plaza board had plans to convert the park into a parking lot, but after a year of inaction, Hoffman-Zoller moved ahead with beautification o the park and said she wants to do what she can while she can.

One problem that has held up plans to move forward with the park conversion for almost six years is finding another green space in teh 4th Ward to replace the loss of Elm Park, which is one of the requirements of the Chicago Park District.

Charles Newsome, president of the Kimbark Plaza board of directors, said he believes the board has found a solution to that problem. "I think we've located an exchangeable property on 42nd and Vincennes in Bronzeville," Newsome said. He said he knows losing green space is not a popular idea, but he said the exchange would be a win-win situation. "There is no park in that area so an area with lots of parks should bed willing to share park space with an area that doesn't have a park at all," said Newsome, who said the Kimbark Plaza board would be willing to landscape the lot at 42nd and Vincennes and provide everything needed for the park.

Newsome said that extra parking at Kimbark Plaza would play a critical role in its competitiveness once the new shopping centers at Harper Court and the Village Center are built. "With all the development happening at Lake Park Avenue we don't want to lose shopping on the west end," Newsome said. "We have one-stop shopping from local vendors who have been here for years and we want to create a shopping experience on the west end that is just as good as the Lake Park developments that are coming."

Newsome's said the Kimbark Plaza board has set up a committee and is now aggressively working toward getting the parking lot.

Burns said while he and members of his transition team have spoken with several community groups to get caught up on things in Hyde Park including Elm Park, he would not comment on this matter until a formal proposal is on his desk.


RedEye July 7, 2011 By Kyle Coward

Elm Playlot Park, located behind the Kimbark Shopping Plaza on 52nd Street and Woodlawn Avenue, hasn’t enjoyed a great reputation over the years, with neighbors complaining that it’s a haven for loitering or even illegal activity. If the Elm Park Advisory Council has its way, that image will vanish entirely.

At a public meeting Tuesday at the Nichols Park Fieldhouse, the group — which formed a little over a year ago — unveiled its proposed plans for a renovation to the park, which call for extensive improvements to its infrastructure and green space.

Citing how the current fence in the back of the park make it conducive for persons to jump over from an adjacent alley, the council seeks to address security issues in the project’s first year by replacing that fence with a 6-foot-high chain link fence and a 4-foot-high wrought iron fence in front.
The new fences, to be bordered by shrubs inside the park, would surround a community garden and new trees would be planted in place of existing worn ones, scheduled to come in the second year of the restoration effort. Following the greenery improvements would be the addition of new benches and repairs to park pavement, slated to occur either in the project’s second or third year.

Elm Playlot Park was constructed in 1964 as part of the Hyde Park-Kenwood Urban Renewal Project, an undertaking that resulted a year earlier in the opening of both Nichols Park (along 54th and Kimbark) and Spruce Playlot Park (53rd and Blackstone). Unlike Nichols and Spruce, Elm was designed with “no public planning input” according to the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference’s website, built merely like “an afterthought from the planned Kimbark Plaza.”*

Since its formation, efforts by the Advisory Council to spruce up the park have resulted in the establishment of a community garden (provided by a grant from the Hyde Park Garden Fair Committee) and a bike safety clinic on Father’s Day, which included participation from the University of Chicago and Chicago Police Departments.

Piotr Gornicki, vice president of the Advisory Council, said such community involvement has provided welcome relief to the park’s historical blight, and he noted that the Park District has been supportive of their efforts.
“The park is almost 50 years old, and some of the infrastructure requires repairing,” he said. “These are capital expenditures that have to be funded.”

To that end, the council is planning to meet with Ald. Will Burns (4th) in the hopes of securing municipal funding for the restoration project (meeting attendees also discussed that additional sources would be considered from state grants, fundraising and the Park District). Although Gornicki said it’s yet unknown when a decision would be made, the organization is eyeing to make its presentation before the Park District decides on its budget for the upcoming fiscal year — a process to be completed this summer.

“What we are asking is for the alderman to commit to supporting the park long-term,” he said.

Friends of the Parks' President Erma Tranter's and Lauren Moltz's letter in the July 13, 2011 Herald

Kimbark Plaza should leave Elm Park alone

The Hyde Park Herald's July 6 article "Elm Park vies with Kimbark Plaza" dissusses the progress made by the Kimbark Plaza in "finding another green space in the 4th Ward to replace the loss of Elm Park." The article stated that finding land in exchange is "one of the requirements of the Chicago Park District." What the article does not discuss are the restrictions in Illinois state law that protect our parks from being easily sold off.

Illinois state statute, if followed as required, seeks to restrict the sale of public parkland. To begin, state law does not even allow the sale of parkland over three acres in size without the approval of the voters in a referendum. Parks less than three acres in size, such as Elm Pak, are governed by Chapter 105, Illinois statute, which sets out an exacting process for the sale of small public parks.

To sell a park less tan three acres, "a board of park commissioners must first make a public determination that the park is no longer necessary or useful for the purpose of said park." If that determination is made by the board of commissioners, the park district would have to apply to the Circuit Court of Cook County along with public notice in newspapers. The Circuit Court would make a decision based on public testimony provided at the hearing. By law the Park District would have trouble selling he park to the Kimbark Plaza for a parking lot. Further, it would be a violation of the spirit of the laws to bypass these provisions and try to "transfer" the park to the Kimbark Plaza.

Elm Park is a green oasis in Hyde Park. The park's lush canopy of nearly two dozen old shade trees is magnificent. it serves as a neighborhood gathering spot and respite for students, seniors and families that live in the surrounding multi-unit buildings.

Friends of the Parks has worked since our inception to protect our limited parkland and parks from being transferred, leased or sold for parking lots or other inappropriate purposes. We strongly oppose any plan to sell/transfer to the Kimbark Plaza.