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Ravinia Neighbors Association Declares War Over Rosewood

After the Park Board of Highland Park approved the Rosewood Beach redesign proposal, a community group said they'd continue to fight against it. In this week's column, Ed Brill wonders: Why?

Last week, the Park District of Highland Park Board of Commissioners .

The plan calls for the US Army Corps of engineers to extend the beach and create a more natural lakefront, remove man-made blots on the beach such as asphalt paths and metal groynes, and construct a set of buildings including a concession stand, restrooms, and an interpretive center.

The Ravinia Neighbor's Association (RNA) used the Park District's decision as an impetus to declare "."

Huh?

It's true that there are still several hurdles remaining before the first ground is broken on the project. The City of Highland Park must approve plans and issue permits, and other parties such as the Army Corps of Engineers must maintain their commitments. Apparently, the RNA has decided to try to take their fight against aspects of this project to those next in line to approve it. I'm not really sure why.

For the last several months, I've enjoyed debating . They all seem committed and passionate, and for the most part the discourse has been respectful. What I don't understand, though, is on what mandate they feel there is any continued need to fight this project.
According to a letter from the Park District of Highland Park to the RNA, dated August 22, 53 percent of the emails received by the Park District since the approved plan was unveiled in May, 2012 supported the full plan. This included hundreds of letters from the members that came in during the last few weeks. Only 26 percent of the emails objected to the interpretive center component of the project, down from 39 percent at the time of the RNA's Freedom of Information Act request, while 5 percent objected to the development overall.

In that same period, despite all the public attention on the Rosewood Beach proposal, the RNA obtained only 16 non-anonymous signatures on its online petition against the interpretive center component of the project. The petition, which is often cited as having over 1000 signatures, has many issues anyway. 

Let's start with the signatures. According to the RNA, 185 signatures were gathered by an elementary school student in 2011. While a nice civics lesson, this makes me wonder a bit about where the signatures actually came from. Another issue is with the electronic petition. On the website, I can see several duplicates, and because of the names on the online version, it is clear they overlap with signatures on the paper petitions as well.

When the RNA started their petition drive against the project in 2010, the Army Corps' extension of the beach wasn't part of the plan, the proposed single structure to be built was 4000 square feet, and the bluff was going to have to be cut into to accommodate the construction. The approved plan moves the water line further away from construction, has modularized the construction so that the interpretive center will be a partially-transparent structure of less than 2000 square feet, and there is no plan to cut into the bluff.  

The bigger issue is the reason that the signatures were offered in the first place. One early version of the RNA's petition drive asked people to sign in support of the following statement:"I commend the Park District of Highland Park for focusing on improving Rosewood Beach. I am opposed to constructing any permanent building on Rosewood Beach other than for public restrooms."

According to the Park District, 260 signatures were on that petition. The problem is, the RNA themselves do not hold this position, since they are not opposed to the concession stand or lifeguard station construction. Thus, these 260 signatures are in conflict with the RNA's position, and shouldn't be counted as supporting the RNA.

Another version stated: "The Park District has resumed its study of improving the Rosewood beach, including plans for a costly building. It is my hope that the Park District will take into consideration my wishes for a smaller footprint that does not overwhelm the beauty of Lake Michigan and its natural setting. The permanent building need only provide for basic beach needs with other desired amenities provided on a seasonal basis"

The Park District indicates there were 390 signatures on that petition. I read that statement and look at everything the Park District has done over the last couple of years and think, if I had signed a petition with that statement, I would feel like my concerns had been addressed. The building is smaller than originally proposed. Nowhere does that petition say anything about an Interpretive Center. The "other desired amenities provided on a seasonal basis" clearly fits within the stated objective of the Interpretive Center.

Last, most of the signatures were gathered earlier in 2012. That proposal took into consideration much of the community feedback. Anyone who signed the petition before the approved plan was detailed might hold a different position now that the simple new plan has been approved. That might make another 100 signatures obsolete.

So far I have been able to call into question around 800 signatures out of the claimed 1000. Yet the RNA, , said last week that when I or others make the claim that the signatures are obsolete: "A unifying point for all the people who signed that petition, whenever they signed it, was and is that they were and are opposed to an 'Interpretive Center' -- an unnecessary building on the beach of any size intended for class rooms, parties, rentals, etc., as well as any overbuilding on Rosewood. The people who signed those petitions continue to be supportive of the admirable job the RNA has been doing of looking out for the best interests of all HP residents when it is clear that the HPPD isn’t."   

In reviewing the Park District of Highland Park materials, it seems like every objection the RNA has raised has been addressed. The architects have assured that the structure can withstand the environmental conditions near the water. The structure proposed is now half the size of the "fortress"-like building that used to sit on Rosewood Beach until a decade ago. The funding for the project comes from reserves out of a taxing body that actually lowered their tax rate this year. The Park District even offered to demolish the structures at Ravine Beach, so as to continue to provide Highland Park with a natural beach setting such as that demanded by the Rosewood opponents. 

Nobody knows if the people who signed the petition are still against the now-approved project. It seems, though, if we are going to look at the literal words, the petitions mostly obsoleted themselves.

If all five elected Park District commissioners voted in favor of this project, and they were elected to represent us, and only a small percentage of residents have voiced objection since the approved plan was unveiled, the matter should be concluded. However this declaration of "war" worries me. Those of us who are looking forward to making greater use of Rosewood Beach will have to keep an eye on developments as the project proceeds, and carry support forward to the City Council and potentially others until the project is completed.

I don't like having to fight any more in this "war," but isn't a long-term win for Highland Park worth fighting for?

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forest barbieri August 29, 2012 at 02:34 PM
Ed: I completely agree with you :) The Park District engaged a cross section of our community on the task force and spent considerable time doing diligence on the plan, including listening to the communities concerns. Then our elected officials voted unanimously to approve the plan which will enhance and give our community an enhanced beach we deserve and waited a very long time for. While I was not in favor of the IC, I am in favor of the enhanced beach and if it was decided that included the IC, so be it. It is not a life changing event and at the end of the day, will have little impact on my ability to enjoy the enhanced facilities within the overall plan. With so many important issues we face individually and as a community, the aggressive push to somehow overturn or delay this project is certainly not in the best interests of our community no matter which side of the issue you were on. I fail to see or understand the anger and insistence on trying to block this plan. To what end and for what purpose? Because a few vocal people did not get their way? I am sorry but the Park District serves all the people. I say great job to all that were involved in getting us here and now let’s start building Rosewood and TEAR down the dangerous structure on Ravine beach!
Jack Straw August 29, 2012 at 03:48 PM
I am with you on your sentiment, but a little confused to what make the old filtration plant so dangerous. Back in the 60’s and 70’s I would have agreed. A few years back they filled in the sand filtration pits with concrete. Really it is a remarkable testament to the type of structure that stands up to time and the relentless pounding from the lake.
Steve Firestone August 29, 2012 at 10:05 PM
16 non-anonymous signatures? Where was that petition?
forest barbieri August 29, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Joe: As a father of two daughters living close to the structure on Ravine Beach I can easily explain what is dangerous about it. First of all, this structure is in a very secluded area. Next, a large part of the structure is open without windows or doors. and is hidden from sight even if you are standing in front of the main structure. A secluded area with an open structure is dangerous in many regards. Unless someone can convince me that young kids are going to use this facility for doing homework assignments, I call it a dangerous structure that can lead to no good.
Ed Brill August 29, 2012 at 10:51 PM
The link is in the column, and the petition is linked off the home page of the RNA website ravinianeighbors.org. direct link http://www.ravinianeighbors.org/petition.html
Jack Straw August 30, 2012 at 02:43 AM
Forest you and Ed are usually the only comments I like on this board, I think your wrong on this one thou. I believe the history of that old building has not been written. It would make a perfect learning center; topics could include geology, ecology, meteorology, hydrologic cycles and the impact of human history on the Great Lakes. That structure is also an early example of large scale water filtration. It is easy to build a building but very hard to fill it with substance. I must admit as a 12 year old that old building was fascinating to explore.
forest barbieri August 30, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Joe: Appreciate your comments and I have been wrong before and certainly will be again. I understand your explorations as a 12 year old boy but Joe, we lived in a different world then. A world where we could go out and the only rule was to be home by dinner or dark depending on if the next day was a school day. Certainly, if the building could be repurposed and enclosed that is not a bad thing. However, if it stays as it is, it scares me as a parent in today's world.
Lou August 30, 2012 at 02:12 PM
Tension always surrounds changes in life, especially the replacement of tall trees and serene lake views with concrete buildings and asphalt roads.I emphasize with the neighbors’ fears.It reminds me of the battles our West Side neighborhood experienced when a few former city council members were dead-set to install a tax producing 7-11 type store (beer and wine included) at the entrance to our neighborhood on West Park Avenue.Not one single family member on the West Side was in favor of this store.And not one resident on the East Side of town showed a drop of sympathy for our plight, we were on our own!At all the city council meetings we attended, no one else was there save for ourselves.It was tax money versus destruction of a neighborhood.We had been terrified of losing our neighborhood family character to noisy metal cars and beer bottles. Our sense of security had all but vanished until we were successful to maintain the status-quo. Because the lakeviews belong to all, I urge: if that building is built, I would hope everything possible is done to buffer and protect the existing neighborhood from the intrusions of light and noise and above all strive to make this area as safe as possible. This battle of the beach is not commercial vs neighborhood, this skirmish is between those who fear loss of a neighborhood’s character vs those who believe natural beauty should be shared with other taxpayers.A hard decision, but let's all share nature.

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