The proposal for a new 713-space parking structure at Rush Oak Park Hospital returned to the Plan Commission Feb. 20 with the hospital’s modifications and design upgrades. The changes were not enough to convince the short-handed plan commission to approve the new version.
With three commissioners absent from the meeting, the commission lacked enough votes to make a final ruling. That did not keep the plan commissioners present from making clear they wanted one floor lopped from the top of the garage and, like some residents at the meeting, were curious about the hospital’s long-term master plan and what it intended for property it is currently assembling along Harlem Avenue.
Hospital officials were doubtful about losing 100 spaces from the proposed garage but promised to take the input back to the hospital’s administration. The project will return to the plan commission for further consideration at its next meeting.
A series of commission-mandated public sessions between Rush Oak Park and its neighbors, ordered after a November commission meeting, seem to have mollified at least some of nearby residents of a project planned on the hospital’s current surface parking lot at Wenonah Avenue and Monroe Street.
“The result of that work is shown here tonight,” said neighbor Trina Sandschafer. “We have come very far on many points that were raised in November.”
Originally presented to the commission Nov. 7, the project was panned by angry neighbors concerned about the negative effect they anticipated in the neighborhood and for the hospital’s lack of advance communication with neighbors about the major project. Plan Commission Chair David Mann felt similarly.
“It seems to me, you should meet with the community before you come to us,” he said.
At the Feb. 20 meeting, Sandschafer said many neighbors opposed the garage due to its height but understood the needs of the hospital and the village.
While not speaking for all neighbors, she said, “With the proposed revision, our neighborhood group [Central West Oak Park Neighborhood Association] drops its formal opposition to this project.” Sandschafer hopes the neighborhood, hospital and village will continue to work together and collaborate in the future.
“Look how much better we are when we work together,” she said.
Among many smaller changes and a broadened traffic study, the updated garage design contains two major modifications. The first is how the garage is accessed. Unlike the initial plan to vacate a portion of Monroe Street to serve as the garage access point, the approach to the garage will be a new access road set between Monroe and the garage.
According to the summary of changes, this new arrangement separates hospital and neighborhood traffic, without limiting the residents’ use of Monroe.
The second major modification is its architectural design. The new design gives the garage the appearance of a medical office building.
Despite the changes, the garage’s size and location are functionally the same as they were when previously presented.
Resident David Osta believed the hospital should provide neighbors with a comprehensive master plan for development.
“We don’t really appreciate the piecemeal approach to development,” Osta said. “It’s really unclear to us and unfair to the neighborhood and the village that we don’t know what’s coming next.”
Other neighbors echoed that same desire for a master plan.
“Master planning is an important part of establishing and maintaining consistent controlled growth within this village,” said resident David Burna.
Not having access to the master plan, Burna said, limits the ability of the village and plan commission to have a lead role in managed growth of the village.
The commission felt strongly about the proposed garage’s height, especially considering its close proximity to residences and the lesser height of the existing hospital garage, roughly 46 feet. The proposed new garage has a height of just under 70 feet.
When asked about the possibility of removing a floor to scale back the structure’s height, Robert Spadoni, the hospital’s vice president of operations, said, “It’s cost prohibitive just from what we did to improve the appearance as it is now.”
The commission regarded that claim with skepticism.
“I think the hospital needs the parking; I think that’s clear. I’m not sure if they need all 700 spaces,” said Mann. “For me, taking one floor off would be a big improvement and still gets you over 600 spaces.”
Rush Oak Park Hospital’s recent acquisition of property on Maple and Harlem Avenues gave Commissioner Jeff Foster pause, calling it a “game changer.”
“As a result, I think further study is needed,” he said. “We’re talking about a structure being built here, directly across the street from single-family homes, that’s going to be here for 50 years.”
Foster would like to see a study exploring whether a garage could go on Harlem Avenue and have eastbound circulation through the closed hospital campus that exited on the controlled intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Madison Street.
Spadoni, on behalf of the hospital, agreed to look into reducing height but reminded the commission that existing zoning allowed a maximum height of 80 feet.
“Just so we’re clear, this is zoned H and in H, we can build what we’re due, but we’re trying to be a good neighbor in that regard,” Spadoni said. “That’s why we spent the time and energy and the money and work with the neighbors to get to this.”
He also said that it wouldn’t be viable to put a garage on Harlem because it would require the removal of handicap spots.
Village government staff recommended the hospital put up a $50,000 escrow held by the village while the village engineer reviews any issues with the east-west alley movements after construction.
Further, staff recommended, due to the village’s recent Madison Street traffic redesign, the hospital update the traffic study with data taken in late spring 2020.
The commission moved to approve the motion with the addition of the staff recommendations and the condition requiring the removal of a minimum of 10 feet 8 inches in height, to the motion.
The motion needed five affirmative votes to pass but received only four. The commission will revote on the motion at its next meeting. Three commissioners were absent but are eligible to participate in the revote, providing they listen to the previous meeting and review the documents.