My job is no picnic — except when it’s time to investigate private use of public land
Ibought some hot dogs Wednesday at Byron’s and scooted over to Lake Shore Drive West for a picnic lunch on a newly discovered patch of parkland.
It’s a lovely setting, almost like having your own private yard, much better maintained than the Chicago Park District property across the street.
In fact, you’d think it’s the front lawn of the mansion located there, set off by bushes that wrap around the property and frame a walkway that leads to the front gate.
A normal person might see those bushes and think, “That’s private property. I’m not supposed to be there.” The homeowner, Michael Tadin Jr., swears that’s not the case.
Tadin said the public is welcome to make use of the land in front of his home in the 3000 block of North Lake Shore Drive West, although he questions why anyone would want to do so when there’s so much more open space just across the street.
Tadin says he planted the bushes “just to outline the property,” not to block public access to it.
Former Chicago Park District Inspector General Will Fletcher has other ideas, which he detailed in a recent report alleging Tadin had
“cordoned off nearly 3,000 square feet” of Park District property with his hedgerows, converting the land to his personal use in the process.
Fletcher, who just took the Chicago Public Schools’ inspector general job, said in his report that Park District lawyers have been trying since 2015 to make the property owners remove the bushes but that they keep stringing everyone along.
The report does not mention Tadin by name or even identify the address, but Tadin confirms he’s the landowner in question.
In a telephone interview, Tadin argued the land is owned by the city, not the Park District, and that he has legal permission from the city to use it for access to his home.
He denies stringing anyone along, arguing he has responded every time the issue was raised and thought it had been resolved in his favor.
A city ordinance approved in 2017 gave Tadin and his wife permission to maintain a 45-foot crosswalk with steps to their front door, for which he must pay $1,663 per year. It makes no mention of planting bushes that essentially serve as a fence.
The home was actually built — with sidewalk and landscaping — in 2014, Tadin said.
I learned about the inspector general’s report from a story by Block Club Chicago.
Plenty of other people read the story, too, because they were walking past and taking photos or making comments.
Even before I set up my lawn chair, Zac Lowing of Albany Park was already there, waving to passersby and inviting them to join him.
Lowing, who told me he was formerly homeless, said he was protesting the deaths of children from Chicago gun violence.
“I’m out here about the babies, and they still cry about the bushes,” Lowing said.
I had to admit I was there in part to escape all the heavy stuff in the news in hopes of immersing myself for a few hours in some good old-fashioned Chicago real estate mischief.
Others joined us to make their own protests.
A woman who lives nearby stopped to use the lawn for her stretching exercises.
“I always thought this didn’t seem right,” she said of the bushes.
In a particular display of belligerence, another fellow sat down and smoked a cigarette on the front steps outside the gate that provides access to the home.
Then there was Larry Williamson, who paused from his walk to ask: “How is this possible?” How indeed.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) said we shouldn’t blame him.
Tunney said he started the Park District investigation in 2015 after neighbors started complaining about the hedges.
Tunney said all properties fronting the west side of Lake Shore Drive West from Diversey to Belmont have a similar strip of public land with varying degrees of landscaping.
“The hedges are the problem,” Tunney said.
Tadin, son of Chicago trucking magnate Michael Tadin Sr. and owner of his own asphalt and construction businesses, said if someone can prove the Park District owns the land he will remove the hedges immediately.
“I’m not looking to start an argument with anybody,” Tadin said. “I don’t even go out there.”
I can’t say Tadin is blocking access to the property. I walked right in. But he’s definitely discouraging its use.
The purpose is obvious: to maintain a buffer between his home and people on the street.
During my two hours outside Tadin’s house, nobody bothered us, and in the end, it was only the mosquitoes that ran me off.
I’m not telling you to hold a Fourth of July picnic there. I’m just saying you could.
Columnist Mark Brown and others enjoy the parkland outside businessman Michael Tadin Jr.’s home on Wednesday.