Last Thursday's Park District board meeting began with a trip to the beach.
The Park Board commissioners went to with members of the Rosewood Beach Task Force and the architects behind the beach's proposed redesign to see . They were joined by about 20 Highland Park residents, including members of Friends of Rosewood (FOR) and Ravinia Neighbors Association (RNA), .
"We had storms, we had biting flies, we had pestilence, it was like being at a seder," joked Park Board President Scott Meyers about the trip to the beach, which began with a quick rainstorm and included guest appearances from the biting flies that hang out along the shoreline.
The trip allowed board members and residents to ask about the proposed plan and to visualize how the new Rosewood Beach might look.
The plan, which was presented to the Park Board in June, involves a guard house, restrooms, concessions and . The total estimated cost for the project is $4,661,372.
RNA members argued against the plan throughout its development, going as far as to . Last Thursday, however, the opposition focused specifically on the interpretive center, while offering support for the rest of the proposal.
"We still don't want the interpretive center, but we want everything else yesterday," RNA Publicity Director Doug Purington said.
Opponents ask to table interpretive center
Those opposed to the interpretive center believe it's an unnecessary cost that will result in a more crowded beach with less available open space. Its construction is expected to cost between $579,000 and $630,000, according to the Park District website.
"I'm actually offended that you would teach my child that he needs an air conditioned building so he can learn about nature," Highland Park resident and RNA member Amy Lohmolder said about the interpretive center last Thursday.
Its opponents repeatedly asked the Park Board to table the interpretive center while approving the rest of the plan, something Meyers said the board would not do.
"It wouldn't be appropriate to just lop off part of the project," , pointing out that the task force was enlisted to create a singular vision for the beach. "We owe it to the public and the task force to call for an up or down vote."
In an unusual twist on public comment, Park Board members engaged in discussion with residents after the beach trip when the meeting resumed at . Sonny Cohen, , called the interpretive center a "big mistake." He told the park board that he would do everything he could to stall the redesign if the board approves it with the interpretive center intact.
"I'm not going to alter my opinion because of threats from you," Meyers told Cohen.
"It's not a threat," Cohen said. "But I've done this before."
"That makes it a credible threat," Meyers responded.
Supporters want plan passed soon
Other residents who spoke at Thursday's meeting praised the redesign, including the interpretive center.
"I think this beach is going to be fabulous when it's redone," said Highland Park resident and Patch blogger .
Highland Park resident and Patch blogger voiced her excitement about the project as well.
"I just wish you'd vote and say yes and get it done with," she told the board.
Despite the back-and-forth, some residents said they felt ignored by the board.
"I talked to over 400 people last summer… there was a great sense that people didn't want to be overextended with facilities," Lohmolder said. "I don't feel we are being listened to."
insisted that the board was listening and would continue to listen.
"You do acknowledge we are compromising, but you say its not enough," Weisskopf told Lohmolder. "A compromise doesn't mean you get everything."
The board won't vote on the project until sometime in August, at earliest.
Letter to the Army Corps.
In the meantime, the group voted unanimously to draft a nonbinding letter of intent to proceed with the Army Corps, a federal agency that's planning a $7.1 million project on Rosewood Beach that would include doubling the size of the beach and stabilizing the bluff from erosion. If the Park Board and the Army Corps. decide to proceed with the plan, the Park District will cover 35 percent of the cost using reserve funds, while the Army Corps. would cover the rest.
"I am comfortable with the Army Corp's project and plan," said Park Board Commissioner Cal Bernstein. "We're getting a lot of bang for $2.5 million."
Board members agreed that, regardless of what happens with the Army Corps., the Park District should do something about the erosion at Rosewood.
"It's irresponsible to do nothing," said Park Board Commissioner Brian Kaplan.
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