Before discussing the only item on the agenda–Mayor Emanuel’s proposed ordinance authorizing the expenditure of Open Space Impact Fees (OSIF) for Kennicott Par–the Committee’s newly appointed Chairman Tom Tunney (44), who dubbed his committee “The Party Committee”, thought it would be helpful if a representative from the Department of Planning and Development explain what OSIFs are and how they are used.

Committee Members Present: Chairman Tom Tunney (44), Roderick Sawyer (6), Leslie Hairston (7), Patrick Daley Thompson (11), Marty Quinn (13), Derrick Curtis (18), Michael Scott, Jr. (24), Walter Burnett Jr. (27), Milly Santiago (31), Scott Waguespack (32), Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), Michelle Smith (43), John Arena (45), Ameya Pawar (47), Debra Silverstein (50)

Meg Gustafson, with the Department of Planning and Development’s Sustainable and Open Space Division, told the aldermen that the program enacted in 1998 is a fee on new residential development permits that is collected by one of the 77 designated community areas around the city. People can get credit for on-site open space, but most single-family and smaller residential permits tend to pay directly into the fund. A community area must get DPD approval before spending any money in the fund. DPD then submits those proposals to Ald. Tunney’s committee.

Gustafson stressed that the fees can only be spent on new open space development projects, or proposals to expand existing open space. She adds that since since the program’s inception, community areas have collected $54M in open space fees, $4M of which is still available. The money helped pay for 47 new Park District parks, 20 Park District expansions, 6 campus parks, 25 neighborspace gardens, 25 school gardens built on “open land,” and 9 trail and riverwalk projects, like the new 606 Trail.

Ald. Marty Quinn (13) asked what projects were not approved, and why they didn’t qualify. Gustafson said plans to transform existing open space, like turning a tennis court into a basketball court, get rejected. Quinn then asked that DPD provide a breakdown of how the fees were spent by wards. Gustafson said it was possible but noted that community areas, like TIFs, overlap ward boundaries.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32) says he has tried to get DPD to raise the open space fees to finance more projects, and asked if DPD was making any headway. Gustafson told him while the department has looked into it, “about four times in the last 5 years, there is never a good time to raise a fee.” She also said increasing the fee wouldn’t impact distribution, because areas that have a lot of new residential development collect more fees.

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47) agreed the fee is too low and should be raised. Ald. Leslie Hairston (5) raised concern that while there is a lot more green development on the north side of Chicago, she has noticed that the Park District has been planting “wild grass” all around her South Side ward, which makes it impossible for residents to enjoy open space. When Ald. Tunney asked that the representative from the Park District elaborate on the process, he said he couldn’t comment.

When the committee eventually moved on to the scheduled agenda, Doreen O’Donnell, the research and planning manager for the Chicago Park District, testified in support of the Kennecott Park Expansion Project in the 4th Ward. She said the the Park District would use the remaining $290,364 from the Kenwood Community Open Space Fees Fund to to expand the park on land it acquired years ago, close an alley, remove a light pole, and add new pathways, benches, greenery, and fencing.