Aldermen Threaten To Block North Branch Corridor Plans Unless More Parks Added

By Stephen Gossett in News on May 3, 2017 6:30PM

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After months of study and community and stakeholder input, the city seemed to be nearing the cusp of approval for its ambitious plan to modernize the North Branch industrial corridor. But just as the framework was set to go before the Chicago Plan Commission for approval, a three prominent aldermen (and a slew of community and parks groups) are demanding more green space at the development.

What opponents see as a lack of significant open park space has long been a point of significant contention at public-input meetings during the plan's long drafting phase. But they drew their most full-throated line in the sand with a statement this week.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd Ward), Scott Waguespack (32nd) and Michele Smith (43rd Ward)—whose wards fall on or around North Branch—called for at least 15 additional "continuous" acres of such space, as the neighboring communities already don't have enough park land to keep up with demand, they said.

The North Branch corridor stretches from near Kinzie all the way past Fullerton, separating Bucktown from Lincoln Park, and encompassing all of Goose Island. What planners ultimately put forth for the massive, 700-plus-acre formerly industrial plot could potentially also influence how 26 other such Planned Manufacturing Districts are redrawn. In the juggling of manufacturing, tech, and residential and recreational open spaces, planners have been criticized for seeming to favor business.

The plan as is includes a wetland park with boardwalk at the North Branch Canal plus a much-anticipated extension of the 606 rail-to-trail, but those limited amenities will do little to lift the strain on park land, especially as more residents come in after following development.

Aldermen and groups wrote:

"We are, quite simply, out of space to play as we enter a period of unprecedented growth with the proposed plans for the Industrial Corridor - which may be up to 50% residential by acreage. The bookend to the area, the Lincoln Park lakefront, has the third highest usage of any park in America after Central Park and the National Mall, according to the Trust for Public Land...

...The DPD framework plan offers a vision as though the Industrial Corridor exists in a bubble and fails both the recreational needs of the surrounding area and also those of the proposed new riverfront community. The Department of Planning incorrectly asserts that no new recreational space is needed in this part of the city, stating, “Areas that were within a half mile of an open space were considered served with respect to access to open space.”

This flawed reasoning contradicts years of thoughtful public policy and irrefutable facts on the ground."

Hopkins told Crain's that he's willing to stand in the way of zoning-change requirements if DPD doesn't hear and address the group's pleas.

What happens between now and May 18—when the plan goes in front of the Commission—should be very interesting to say the least.