North Siders drawing lines in the sand over Lake Michigan plan

Whose lakefront is it, anyway?

An advocacy group looking to open the city's entire 30-mile shoreline to the public may confront a storm of controversy when it asks that question this fall in Rogers Park and Edgewater. Only four miles of Chicago's lakefront remain inaccessible-two of them in those North Side communities.

A group of architects working pro bono for Friends of the Parks has turned its attention to the remaining chunks of inaccessible land-roughly from the city's northern boundary to Loyola Park, then from Loyola Park south to Hollywood Avenue.

The planners completed a proposal for the South Side's lakefront last month. Next up is a plan for the North Side, starting with public meetings in September.

Private condos loom over the lake on much of that land-and some owners aren't happy about the prospect of losing their space.

"When I bought my unit, it was in a certain place and the lake was in a certain place," said Richard Strauss, who lives in the Malibu East building at 6033 N. Sheridan Rd. "If you're going to change that, you're impinging on my rights."

Strauss, 69, said the neighborhood has plenty of public lakefront access elsewhere and that an expensive project to expand the beach would be a waste of money. Plus, "I have great concern about noise and traffic," he said.

Strauss, who is first vice president of the condo association's board of directors, stressed he was speaking personally and not as a representative for the board.

William Budinski, 50, a real estate agent who lives in a lakefront condo on Sherwin Avenue in Rogers Park, said he feared the plan would bring garbage and bustle to his private beach. "It would no longer be a peaceful dead-end street," he said. "I hope that never happens. I would probably move."

Friends of the Parks' plan to expand public access also ran into outspoken opposition on the South Side from private lakefront homeowners between 71st and 75th streets. The group does not expect to finish its proposal for the entire lakefront until 2009.

Despite the strong feelings of some condo owners, others applaud the idea of more beaches, parks and paths.

"With the density increasing on the North Side, it would make more sense to have as much beach access as possible," said Chris Ryan, 48, as he walked his dog at Berger Park on Granville Avenue.

Ryan, whose Rogers Park condo blocks public access to the lake with rocks, said he'd have no problem with opening the front of his building to Chicago's beachgoers.

"I can't believe that somebody would buy a condo just to have a private beach," he said.

Rashni Patel, 21, a Loyola University student, said a fully public shore would give her workouts a boost by extending lakeside running paths. "I'd rather just do that than going in circles," she said, adding that now she's forced to run on the sidewalk at Thorndale Avenue, where condos act as a barrier to the lakefront.

Alderman Joe Moore (49th) said he'll wait to see a final proposal before weighing in on the plan to open the last lakefront miles in his ward. "It depends on what you mean by 'opening up to the public,'" he said. "The devil is, as always, in the details."

A spokesman for Alderman Mary Anne Smith (48th) was more enthusiastic. "It's great," said Tom Samuels. "More green, more access, mom and apple pie. You can't go wrong."

Friends of the Parks will test that theory as it gathers public input this fall. "The first and foremost thing we want to do is see what the community needs," said Joanne Bauer, president of an architecture firm and one of the architects working on the lakefront plan.

They may need to brace for some discord. Open space lovers will likely be joined by condo owners like Strauss. "I will do anything I can do to bring thousands of people to their meeting," he said, "and tell them that they're full of it."


NATIVECHIGUY, 08-08-2007

When I bought MY place, the lake was in a certain place, & Richard Strauss' building didn't exist. We're not impinging on his "rights"; We're impinging on his "theft". He and selfish insecure people like him are impinging on the rights of all of us. The lake and access to it belong to everyone. Universal access works in Hawaii and it will work here.