Residents concerned, skeptical about the future of neighborhood park

Residents concerned, skeptical about the future of neighborhood park

Greenbaum park isn't very big. Just a half-block sized park, it has a basketball court, a soccer field, a playlot and a community garden. But it's a haven for the neighborhood, resident Stephen Edwards says.

"It's the only sort of open space for several blocks in any direction," Edwards says. "I took my kids there very, very frequently when they were the age. That was a very important part of growing up. I think it's true of many kids in the neighborhood. "

So when Edwards and several of his West Humboldt Park neighbors got notices in the mail that the park was being rezoned residential--RT-4--a zoning classification that allows residential two-flat, townhouse and multi-unit buildings--they were confused and concerned. With tons of foreclosures and for-sale signs on his block, he couldn't see why anyone would want to build more homes.

Calls to the local aldermen, Ariel Reboyras and Ray Suarez, didn't yield much information for the community. Edwards says Reboyas' office claimed to not know anything about the rezoning, while Suarez's office hung  up on his neighbors.

Then Edwards was told a different story by the zoning department. The park, he was told, was going to be taken over by Chicago Public Schools, by Grand High School across the street, for playing fields. Community residents would still be allowed to use it. But he remembered similar claims when a pool was built inside the high school, and neighborhood residents have never been allowed to use it.

"We are very concerned. Will the school build something on it, or whatever they do, will it be available to the people in the neighborhood?  That isn't want happened with the pool," Edwards says.

After hearing Edward's story, I did a little digging of my own into the situation. The park is currently zoned POS-2, for parks and open spaces. So why was it being rezoned residential?

I called Aldeman Reboyras. He said it was just a misunderstanding with the neighborhood.

"It has to be rezoned to legal specifications so that the section of land that is being connected with the already existing school, that is zoned as a planned development, to be equal to the same zoning. At no time can anyone go in there to build homes on it," Reboyras said.

Reboyras said the project involves eliminating an entire street, Kildare, to make the park an on-campus park for the high school.

"It's going to be like a protected park property. It's got fencing all the way around. An additional field, softball, spray pool, basketball courts," he said.

Reboyras said he's also concerned that it will still be available to neighborhood residents and hopes to make that part of the legal process of rezoning. Calls to the zoning department by The Chicago Reporter have not yet been returned.

Research shows that access to parks is important for city children, especially in disadvantaged neighborhoods. The University of California, Los Angeles found that teenagers living within 400 meters of a safe park got more physical activity than those who did not live close to a park. Further research in the journal of State legislatures shows that "communities without parks and playgrounds often lead to sedentary children and stressful lives." Data from the Journal of Leisure Research showed that parks were even important for adults, and visits to parks helped adults deal with stress more positively.

Erma Tranter, president of Friends of the Parks, says her organization has gotten involved with the effort to make sure Greenbaum stays zoned as a park, not residential. She says the organization supports an on-campus Chicago Public Shcools park, but there's no need for the park itself to be rezoned.

"Friends of the Parks' recommendation is that Greenbaum park is protected under zoning with POS-2 designation. That designation protects parks from development," Tranter says.

Tomorrow, the rezoning effort will come before the Chicago Plan Commission at 1 p.m. in the city council chambers on the second floor. Edwards and his neighbors are planning on being there to stand up for their park, and make sure any rezoning effort includes language saying the park is open for community use.

"We just want what's best for the neighborhood. We don't mind a school park. It's just that the zoning change doesn't say that," Edwards said. "Neighborhoods need open space."

Photo credit: Steven Depolo

© Community Renewal Society 2011

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