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Morgan Park: Residents, Alderman Win Battle Over Green Space

Residents of Chicago’s Southwest Morgan Park neighborhood won their battle to keep a neighborhood field as green space and out of developers’ hands.

The seven-acre field is a huge asset to the community, said Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), who described the grassy area as a place where children play soccer, people walk their dogs and sports enthusiasts cross country ski in the winter. The nearest park is more than half a mile away, he said.

The Southwest Morgan Park Civic Association gathered close to 500 signatures to support keeping the field as open space.

Residents joined O’Shea at the City of Chicago’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards on Oct. 25. The ordinance to maintain the park was passed by the City Council last Wednesday. The vote was unanimous.

The land, which sits on the 116th block of South Oakley Avenue, was zoned for residential housing. Residents in the 19th Ward, who use the park, wanted the zoning changed to recreational use because the Chicago Board of Education owned it. Some said the park would not be preserved under CPS’s ownership and wanted the Chicago Park District to purchase it.

O’Shea said there has been speculation of a developer wanting to build a multi-family home on the land.

“That will happen over my dead body,” O’Shea said. The alderman said he did not know the name of the developer reportedly trying to buy the land.

In the Oct. 24th Chicago Board of Education meeting, CPS officials said some parcels of land might be sold to create revenue. O’Shea said he heard a few weeks ago that the board was starting the process of selling the land.

“I understand, there are parcels, throughout the city [for sale], but this isn’t going to be one of them, ever. We took care of that today,” he said.

CPS Spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler, said in an email, written before the City Council vote, that CPS has owned the land since the 1920s.

She said CPS is seeking brokers to help sell this property, along with others in hopes of generating $15 million in revenue. CPS is working to close a $665 million deficit in its fiscal year 2013 budget, she said.

“We need to use every tool at our disposal to identify new revenue so we can invest every dollar possible in our kids and their learning,” Ziegler said.

Mark Fleming, a member of the Southwest Morgan Park Civic Association, said the field is about two minutes from his home and children play sports in it all the time. He feared developers would take the field away from him and leave the neighborhood with no recreational space.

“Along with the health benefits, you have to think about the air quality because we have all those trees around and even some of the health professionals have said just looking at green space enhances your mental state, said Pauline Killian, who has lived in the neighborhood for 32 years. It’s doing all of those things for us.”

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