When Lake Forest planner Almerin Hotchkiss set aside Forest Park in his 1873 Master Plan for the city, the significance of his decision reverberated nearly 140 years later at Wednesday night’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) meeting.
“This is our Plymouth rock,” said HPC board member James Preschalk said. “It’s sacred land.”
The HPC unanimously approved the Forest Park Project master plan to end nearly two years of discussions and meetings since the Lake Forest City Council formed the special board of residents in May 2010 when it approved the conceptual master plan. The HPC’s recommendation gives the Lake Forest City Council an opportunity to formally give it a stamp of approval at its Monday night (May 21) meeting.
The HPC’s decision follows a similar recommendation by the Lake Forest Parks and Recreation Board at its May 8 meeting.
Forest Park Project Board chairman Frank Gesualdo told the HPC that the master plan had undergone “a lot of changes thanks to feedback from the city, the public and the two boards. I truly believe this is a better plan than a year ago, six months ago or even four weeks ago,” he said.
HPC Chairman Kurt Pairitz said the inclusion of an appendix to the 79-page master plan document, which includes the historic background and O.C. Simonds’ plan for Forest Park in 1896, provides an important perspective that can’t be lost on the project going forward.
“All we’re really doing is looking back over our shoulder at history here,” Pairitz said. “That’s really what we’re doing. When somebody 25 years from now has another idea, I want to make sure that is sitting on the shelf with this plan.”
“I think it's good enough,” Pairitz added. “I know there are holes in it. I want to be able to look over my shoulder always at the rest of this and say, remember this stuff; this is where it all came from.”
The HPC’s decision included accepting conditions recommended by Lake Forest Community Development Director Cathy Czerniak and staff, plus adding two of their own.
The master plan conditions recommended by staff included:
- Require a process that implements the plan incrementally, allowing changes to be made slowly and then evaluated as to their impact individually and collectively on the park. This incremental process may result naturally as a result of fund-raising activities, but should in particular be used in constructing the various walkways, paths and park furnishings.
- Assure a review process is put in place for evaluations of the plans in the context of the Master Plan, and the stated vision as detailed design drawings and construction plans are presented for permit and construction.
- A signage plan shall be presented to the Commission at a later date for review and issuance of a Certificate of Appropriateness. If one or more structures are proposed in association with memorials in the park, a Certificate of Appropriateness should also be obtained for those elements.
The Certificate of Appropriateness conditions recommended by city staff included:
- The Ring Road will be kept and although parking was eliminated from the central core, handicapped parking has been drawn in for consideration. However, the emphasis is on temporary stops to view the lake and pedestrian drop-offs.
- A Bluff walking path between the Ring Road and the bluff edge, and the addition of other paths connecting the park to the beach area and other parts of the park. The one path eliminated from the master plan was a northern outlook.
- Elements like benches, bike racks, trash/recycling containers will be phased in slowly. For example, Cliff Miller, chair of the Forest Park Board Landscape and Horticultural committee, said instead of 22 benches being introduced, the number will be cut in half to 11.
The HPC added conditions to ensure the safety of the bluff area during any construction and that the park preserve its national historic registry.
Public discussion on the pros and cons of rehabbing the 10-acre park will likely continue. Lake Forest resident Romy Lopat told the HPC that the master plan’s attempt to merge landscape architect Steven Stimson’s modern day designs with Simonds’ historic vision did not work.
“I will admit there are a few attempts to reconcile the aesthetic of contemporary Stimson with that of picturesque Simons, but there really is no way to do this,” she said. “This is not compatible with the Lake Forest Historic District or Forest Park itself.”
However, Prue Beidler, president of the Lake Forest Garden Club, believes the Forest Park Project Board was up to the task.
“There is no question that this is a group committed to doing the right thing by the city, and they have demonstrated that time and again,” Beidler said. “I think this group needs a sense that this is going to go forward. It’s time.”