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Jen Thomas/MEDILL

Portions of the lakefront could see new beaches and parks created, if a local parks advocacy group's proposal is put into effect.

Edgewater residents to vote on lakefront expansion

by Jen Thomas
Oct 07, 2008


Jen Thomas/MEDILL

Edgewater residents oppose the park extension plan.

A proposal to extend Chicago’s lakefront parks and beaches all the way to Evanston has run into opposition from some Far North Side residents.

Residents of the 48th Ward will vote in November on a referendum to prohibit expansion of the lakefront from Hollywood Avenue to Howard Street in Evanston. It seeks to prevent construction of roadways, marinas, housing and major landfill.

“Expansion has an impact on the community and we’re against this,” said Sherwin E. Pakin, a resident who spearheaded the effort to place the nonbinding referendum on the ballot.

Pakin, who lives on lakefront property, was motivated to launch the campaign after Friends of the Parks, a nonprofit park advocacy group, unveiled its “Last 4 Miles Initiative” to complete 30 miles of continuous public parks and beaches along Lake Michigan.

Consulting with residents and planners earlier this year, the group developed several design concepts that included offshore islands, a bike and walking trail, the creation of a lagoon and a dog park.

Pakin and fellow resident Kelli Gardner Emery opposed the possible plans, arguing the cost of the extension wouldn’t be worth the trouble it would bring.

“We think this would be the world’s most expensive bike path,” Pakin said.

Pakin acknowledged “the bike path would be for all Chicagoans,” but made the point that “the tax increases would also be for all Chicagoans.”

Pakin estimates the extension would cost $400 million, money he says could be better spent on boosting other city programs, like the Chicago Transit Authority or the public school system.

Tammy Mitchell, the community relations coordinator for the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, did not know about the north expansion idea, but said a project to extend the lakefront would be very expensive.

“From an environmental standpoint, the more ecologically sensitive the area is, the more costly it will be to meet environmental regulations,” Mitchell said. She added that construction on Lake Michigan is subject to strict regulations.

Though the ballot question specifically addresses extending Lake Shore Drive and other development, Pakin said he is most worried about security and nuisance issues.

“We have a $5 million inventory of cars on the ground level of our building and anyone, that includes hoodlums and gang members, could hop over a small railing into our garage,” he said.

Siim Soot, interim director of the Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, called Chicago’s network of lakefront beaches and parks a unique gem, but echoed Pakin’s concerns.

“With a narrow park along Lake Michigan, I suspect there will be more activity close to the buildings,” Soot said. “I would be concerned if I were a property owner.”

Members of Friends of the Parks, who plan to use grant money to investigate environmental impacts and prices this fall, said the plan is to preserve the lakefront for future generations.

“Some people don’t want change at all. They’re not thinking about the future,” said Eleanor Roemer, the group’s public trust and policy director. “I hope they won’t prevent those of us who do want to do something from at least discussing the possibilities.”