This letter is in response to some of the statements made by Iris Sims, chair of the Oak Park Plan Commission in her Feb. 10 op-ed, about Rush Oak Park Hospital’s controversial request to build a 713-space parking garage in our neighborhood.
Ms. Sims discussed the garage during a Feb. 1 meeting of the Oak Park Village Board. During the meeting, a petition opposing the garage, signed by more than 90 members of the Center West Oak Park Neighborhood Association (CWOPNA), was read. Ms. Sims wrote that the petition was from a “new neighborhood group that formed after the last commission meeting.” In fact, CWOPNA is the same group of neighbors that for the past several years has been trying to ensure that hospital growth is reasonable and responsible. (Some residents have been at it for decades.) You can read more about our point of view in published letters from Jan. 13, 2021 and Nov. 19, 2019.
The legitimate needs of the hospital and its neighbors have long been out of balance. Unfortunately, the village board has tipped that balance even further on the side of the hospital. At its Feb. 1 meeting, for example, the board invited a hospital executive to speak and answer questions, but no residents were invited to speak.
As background, the Plan Commission, after a lengthy discussion during their Feb. 20, 2020 meeting, recommended the village approve the garage with conditions, including lowering the height to six stories and allowing Rush to add a level underground so that it would not tower quite so much over two-story homes. Importantly, a full and accurate summary of the Feb. 20, 2020 Plan Commission discussion regarding the garage height was not provided at the recent Feb. 1 meeting.
Nonetheless, the village board, based on no new data, saw fit to approve Rush’s original application height at seven stories. This is unprecedented. Never before has a parking garage or possibly any structure so high been allowed across from single-family homes.
The village board also rubber-stamped the hospital’s demand to rezone homes it has been gobbling up in the 600 block of Maple Avenue — from Residential to Hospital zone. Astonishingly, the board approved this rezoning without knowing the hospital’s plans for the properties, which Rush is keeping secret.
Sooner or later, Rush will seek approval to develop Maple Avenue. We hope the village by then will finally be willing to — gasp — balance the hospital’s growth with neighborhood quality.
For decades, the hospital has been bulldozing homes and eliminating green space to accommodate its relentless growth. To help offset these negative effects, the hospital should be required to compensate the neighborhood by, for example, funding a neighborhood park. (Such compensating benefits are required under the village’s ordinance for planned developments.)
So what is the village afraid of? Rush is not going to leave Oak Park. We should gain something when we allow it to expand into neighborhoods. We hope candidates in the upcoming election for village board president and trustees will commit to restore the balance.
David Osta is an Oak Park resident.