Parking and the installation of a walking and biking path proved to be the most contentious components of the Forest Park Project master plan at Thursday night’s joint meeting of the Historic Preservation Commission and the Parks and Recreation Board.
Both bodies will discuss the Project master plan at their next meetings — May 8 for Parks and Recreation and May 16 for the Historic Preservation Commission — and make a recommendation to the Lake Forest City Council before its May 21 meeting.
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The City Council set aside $100,000 in its 2012 budget for the renovations and plans to seek more funds from private donors.
The Forest Park Project Board suggested moving parking out of the center of the park and creating a parking area that will be more convenient for buses. They also advocated adding space along the Ring Road for drivers to pull over and enjoy a short walk or the views, which would also serve as overflow parking on particularly busy days.
“We agree that it’s less convenient, but more appropriate,” said Forest Park Project Board Chairman Ralph Gesualdo.
Historic Preservation Commission member Guy Berg said he would prefer cars stay hidden from view of park-goers, mentioning that he tried parking on the Ring Road pull-off and didn’t like it.
“I felt kind of like I was littering that street,” he said. “I think you need to rethink that drop-off zone if we’re looking at beautification.”
As the debate about parking went on between members of the Historic Preservation Commission and the Forest Park Project Board, Lake Forest City Manager Bob Kiely questioned if the discussion had ceased to be productive.
“I’m not sure that we can continue to have this conversation,” he said.
The two groups were even more divided over the possible addition of paths for pedestrians and bikers who want to avoid vehicular traffic. Historic Preservation Commission member Susan Rafferty Athenson said the addition of paths would represent a “character change,” turning a pastoral park into an urban one.
While master plan designer Stephen Stinson argued that the paths would improve access and safety, commission member Jim Preschlack said he was concerned that they would be a dramatic change to the park built by architect O.C. Simonds in 1901.
“It’s not a blank canvas,” Preschlack said. The master plan “is being painted on something that’s been here for a while. Why can’t we just walk on the grass?”
Kiely, who served as moderator, urged members of the Historic Preservation Commission to consider what modifications to Forest Park they would accept.
“The concern is that the Park Board will say, 'We absolutely need this path for function,' and the Historic Preservation Commission will say, 'I don’t like this path,'” Kiely said.
Kiely reminded residents that many building projects have been embraced by the community although they once were just as contentious.
“What we have to keep in mind is that there are very few projects in Lake Forest that don’t generate the emotion and interest that a Forest Park Project will generate,” Kiely said. “Residents in the city of Lake Forest care very deeply about our community.”
That caring was evident in the packed crowd at the Gorton Community Center, with 30 residents signing up for public comment, many of them waiting 3½ hours for their chance to speak. (See the attached video).
“I find it bizarre that anyone would decide Forest Park, which is arguably the most beautiful park in Lake Forest, is in dire need of improvement,” said Jon Henricks, who has lived in Lake Forest for 37 years.
Other residents said the addition of a path would help them gain more use out of the park.
“It’s not safe enough for our children,” said Tom O’Neill. “No one’s been hit (by a car) in 10 years, but I don’t want my son to be the first.”