The residents near Rush Oak Park Hospital have long advocated for greater zoning restrictions to protect their homes from being encroached upon by the hospital’s growing campus. In recent months, neighbors switched to a more proactive and novel approach, filing a formal request to see consistent zoning rules applied to both of Oak Park’s hospitals. Their request, however, was swatted down in a 7-2 vote by the Plan Commission May 4. 

“They can’t see that the system deeply advantages Rush and developers, who get to bake the cake and put icing on it, and then right before they bring out the cake, they let us choose where to put one of the candles,” said resident David Osta, who submitted the application for zoning changes alongside Ann Frueh, Bruno Graziano and Mike Weik.

The requested zoning changes would essentially require Rush Oak Park, 610 S. Maple Ave., to downzone by imposing upon the hospital similar limitations to those imposed upon West Suburban Medical Center, 3 Erie St. This includes subjecting Rush Oak Park to a maximum height of 50 feet and applying a 50-foot limit to the east and west sides of neighborhood residences adjacent to or abutting Rush Oak Park Hospital’s campus. 

The request is very unusual in that it was put forth by private citizens. Oak Park’s zoning ordinance does allow private citizens to apply for zoning changes, but it has never happened before. This particular request is the first and only of its kind, according to Village Planner Craig Failor. If the village board approves the application, it would likely set a precedent. This caused some commissioners to be concerned over the potential for private entities to take development rights from other private entities.

Rush leadership is against the residents’ application, believing such changes would threaten the hospital’s ability to provide quality care. The hospital at this time has filed no development plans with the village. Its previously approved plan to build a 64-foot-high parking garage on hospital-owned land on Wenonah Avenue has been paused indefinitely. The garage was proposed under the hospital’s previous CEO, but paused by its current CEO, Dr. Dino Rumoro, which the commission took as a sign of the new leader’s willingness to work with neighbors.

The application did not receive the support of village staff as the requested changes would apply to effectively all uses within both hospital districts. Staff backed up that stance by referencing existing zoning intricacies that would be impacted by such changes, including having to change the definition of accessory uses and the setback required of them. These uses already have less of an effect on adjacent properties than principal uses, Failor said. Accessory uses include surface-level parking lots. 

“If this provision were approved, as suggested by the applicants, any new surface parking lot would be severely restricted and set back to a point that it would diminish the ability for the hospitals to provide essential surface parking,” said Failor, adding that patients would have to rely more on street parking. 

The residents’ request did have outside support. The application was backed by the Center West Oak Park Neighborhood Association, as well as architect Linda Searle and Dr. Rachel Caskey, who assists in matters of expansion for the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System. Commissioners Paul Beckwith and Nick Bridge also voted in the residents’ favor.

Making permanent changes to the zoning code falls under the purview of the Plan Commission, which is why the request did not go through the village’s zoning commission. Plan Commission Chair Iris Sims, whose spouse sits on Rush Oak Park’s board of directors, declined to recuse herself, despite a previously submitted formal request and a subsequent vocal request to do so from the attorney representing the neighbors. Sims, as chair, has never recused herself from hearings related to Rush. She voted against this application. 

The commission has not killed the application by not giving it its approval. The village board will get the final say. Should the majority of village board members vote against the application, the decision can still be appealed through the court system.

Join the discussion on social media!