My job is no pic­nic — ex­cept when it’s time to in­ves­ti­gate pri­vate use of pub­lic land

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - MARK BROWN mark­brown@sun­times.com | @MarkBrownC­ST

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.

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