Controversy still swirling around Highland Park beach
Rosewood Beach in Highland Park has long been neglected. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 7, 2012 10:17AM
HIGHLAND PARK — David Woodhouse Architects took a minimalist approach when designing improvements for Rosewood Beach, after another firm’s plans for a 3,500-square-foot pavilion were scrubbed in 2010.
Even detractors of a proposed interpretative center concede the downscaled plans and natural design are a vast improvement over the more massive building the city’s Design Review Commission found objectionable two years ago.
Four separate, low-lying structures would be built along a meandering boardwalk. The structures will house bathrooms, a concession stand, a lifeguard station and a 1,950 square foot interpretative center that will be used for environmental education, rentals and early-morning fitness classes.
“When you go to a park, it is all about the natural experience. It is not about our buildings,” said David Woodhouse, whose firm worked closely with the citizens’ Rosewood Beach Task Force. “Our buildings want to show you the environment. They want to defer to the environment.”
But the glass-encased interpretative center, described as the “crown jewel of the project”, is continuing to draw objections from some neighbors and others in the community, who generally believe it’s too much for the city’s only swimming beach.
Some point to high maintenance costs, and question the wisdom of constructing a glass building 60 feet from the water’s edge.
“We have almost 1,200 signatures that are strongly against the interpretative center or any kind of large structure that goes beyond restrooms and basic amenities,” said Don Miller, president of the Ravinia Neighbors Association. “It is ironic that to teach children about nature, we put them in a heated and air conditioned building, when what they really want is a pail and shovel.” The relevance of the petitions has been questioned because some signatures were collected before the current Woodhouse proposal had taken shape.
Miller notes that while the wording of the petitions has varied, the gist is the same: Don’t overbuild the beach.
The five commissioners who make up the park board voted unanimously to approve the conceptual design plan in August. Two city commissions are reviewing the proposal this month before it heads to the Highland Park City Council. On Monday, Nov. 5, the Design Review Commission will hold a second discussion on the project. The Natural Resource Commission is set to vote Wednesday, Nov. 14, on findings that the project meets the standards of the Lakefront Overlay Zone.
The interpretative center will include informational panels explaining shoreline conservation efforts and the lake ecosystem. “As one of just 13 communities along Lake Michigan, it is our responsibility to teach both adults and children about this remarkable natural resource and its surrounding environment and eco-systems,” said Liza McElroy, director of the park district. The multipurpose space also will provide necessary shelter for beach visitors from severe weather, extreme heat or cold and sun exposure.
The project is estimated to cost $3.8 million after $850,000 in grants have been applied. If approved, construction is slated to begin next summer. The park district also is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a coastline restoration program that would double the size of the beach and replace the steel groins with a stone breakwall.
The park district would contribute 35 percent of the $7.1 million cost, or about $2.5 million.
Eve Tarm, a Ravinia neighbor who served on the Rosewood Beach Task Force, agrees that improvements are sorely needed at the long-neglected beach. But she objects to the park district’s all-or-nothing approach.
“You have to be for the whole plan, or against the whole plan,” she said. “You get it all and have to have this interpretative center, or we won’t do anything,” she said.