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 "."
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?