Last fall Alderman Smith convened a community relations committee composed of Parker officials, residents from neighboring buildings, and Parker parents.
Parker proposed once again to put down artificial turf. Consistent with her campaign promises, Alderman Smith was clear from the start that there would be no stadium lights on the field. Nor would the Alderman permit lights during her time in office.
The heart of the draft agreement negotiated by the parties is a sentence that will be put on the record of the Chicago Plan Commission (and in Parker’s Planned Development): “no permanent lighting would be permitted on the field.”
To change that limitation, Parker would have to give six months’ notice to its neighbors and would then have to comply with the most rigorous approval procedure: a major amendment to its Planned Development. That would require hearings before the Plan Commission and the City Council Committee on Zoning, and the passage of an approving ordinance by the City Council.
Under the agreement, the school will not be permitted to circumvent these provisions by using temporary stadium lights (mobile light towers) to illuminate athletic events.
Parker will be permitted to lease its new turf field to third parties. However, the participants must be 18 and under, and leased uses may not continue past 7:30 PM.
Parker commits to replacing the fence around its field (removing the barbed-wire) and repairing the deteriorating wall both on Lincoln Park West and Webster Avenue.
Finally, the agreement establishes a dispute resolution committee subject to oversight by the Alderman to manage disputes and encourage good relations in the neighborhood.
On January 11th, 2011, Parker School announced plans to install stadium lights on its Lincoln Park field: four six-story light towers, lights on as early as 4:30 PM and as late as 9:00 PM; up to 100 lighted nights. All of that in the midst of one of Chicago’s most prized public areas: across the street from the Zoo, the Grandmother’s Gardens, and the Conservatory. Neighbors were given ten days to submit all questions to the school. Despite repeated requests, the school refused to furnish us plans.
Parker’s neighbors quickly organized and launched a petition drive and a website. Within two weeks, more than 500 Chicago residents had signed the no-lights petition. By mid-February, all of the aldermanic candidates for the 43rd Ward – including the current alderman, Michele Smith – had declared their opposition to stadium lighting. Nine buildings took official stances against Parker’s proposal.
In mid-March, Parker announced that it was withdrawing its plans.
Michael Volpe, "Aldermanic Candidates, Neighbors Oppose Parker Stadium Lights," Inside-Booster, 23 February-1 March 2011. [PDF]
Matthew Blake, "Lights Out at Francis Parker?" Skyline, 17 February 2011. [link]
Dennis Rodkin, "Lincoln Park's Two Battlefields," Deal Estate, Chicago Magazine, 16 February 2011. [link]
Greg Hinz, "Francis Parker School Shelves Lights Plan," Crain's, 8 February 2011. [link]
Greg Hinz, "Fight Over Francis Parker School Field Lights Up Lincoln Park," Crain's, 7 February 2011. [link]
Rachel Cromidas, "Private School Plan Angers Lincoln Park Neighbors, Chicago News Cooperative, 28 January 2011. [link and PDF]
[PDF of Parker's original "Everybody Plays" web page, now removed by Parker.] Here's our response to Parker's 2011 PR campaign.
Despite neighbors’ adamant opposition, Parker has not abandoned its lighting plans. Indeed, the school in mid-February informed neighbors that it will this summer install under the new field larger conduit with the capacity to accommodate permanent stadium lighting. Click here for the site plan.
Thanks to your participation, we stopped stadium lighting last year. Your continued vigilance will preserve the status quo.
NONE of the nine schools in Parker’s athletic league have lighted fields. The reason why neither Parker nor its competitors has ever needed lights is because varsity and JV League games begin by 4:30 and end by dusk.
DePaul University, with a major athletic program, does not have lights on its field, in deference to its neighbors.
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WHO WE ARE
This website represents the efforts of a group of Francis Parker's neighbors. We welcome your thoughts and contributions to our effort. Please friend us on Facebook and email email@example.com.
Here is the draft agreement. We have included a set of explanatory notes in the text, but if there's anything that you'd like to discuss, please call or email us (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The deal is not closed. Parker files its application with the Plan Commission next week. Final approval of the agreement is subject to our review of the school's application, which we will post on the website. We welcome your comments.
Parker's neighbors have repeatedly voiced concerns about traffic congestion and parking problems that have accompanied the school's expansion. Since 1996, Parker has added 130 students, an increase of 16% over the last fourteen years.
In August of 2011 Ald. Smith convened a community relations committee to address these concerns as well as the field project. For two months, neighbors offered suggestions about how Parker could ameliorate its traffic impact on the surrounding community. No significant progress had been made by October, at which point Parker hired a traffic expert. By then, the committee's focus turned to the field.
We now expect that the traffic issue will be back on the table, and we welcome your thoughts.
For more than forty years, Parker has justified its expansion program by promising that its playing field would be preserved as open space for the benefit of the community.
The statement made by Parker's expert to the Chicago Plan Commission in 1998 is typical: "One planning principle that has always guided development and continues to do so, is the preservation of the open area on the southern portion of the site, which preserves the view corridor between Clark Street and Lincoln Park West." Parker's expert went on to explain that the field would "benefit the community as landscaped open space."
Why has Parker made these representations? The school is in the private-use zone of the Lakefront Protection Area. As a result, development of this site is subject to special regulation. Those who wish to build in this area carry the burden of showing that the project will (among other criteria):
* maintain "a harmonious relationship between the lakeshore parks and the community edge...."
* "preserve the cultural, historical, and recreational heritage of the lakeshore parks."
* "protect and enhance vistas...."
Between 1997 and 2009, Parker has been building continuously in the Lakefront Protection Area. It has added 100,000 sq. ft. of new structures to its property.
However, the story began much earlier, back in 1958. At that time Parker's buildings were in the middle of today's playing field. The school had no regulation-sized athletic field.
Any expansion of the school was blocked by the fact that Parker's property was bisected by a public street: Grant Place.
For twenty years, between the 1930s and the 1950s, Parker unsuccessfully lobbied to get Grant Place closed. It was only with the coming of urban renewal in the late 1950s that the city agreed to close the street.
As justification for the closing of the street, Parker urged that the result would be "large open play areas of grass and trees" that would "carry the Park area west to Clark Street."
Those are the commitments that Parker has made. They are fundamentally inconsistent with four, six-story lighting towers and a blaze of illumination opposite the Grandmothers' Gardens.
NO STADIUM LIGHTS ON PARKER FIELD
Burden on Parker to Change Status Quo
But Vigilance is Required for the Future