Rush Oak Park Hospital (Provided)

Hospital zoning will remain as it currently stands as a proposal submitted by neighbors of Rush Oak Park Hospital was struck down by the Oak Park village board June 5, as it had been one month earlier by the Plan Commission. The proposal called for stricter zoning restrictions to prevent hospital encroachment upon residential properties.

This is the first time in Oak Park’s history that a zoning proposal was brought forward by a group of residents. The defeat was perhaps made less bitter for those residents by Trustees Chibuike Enyia, Susan Buchanan and Brian Straw voting in their favor. A super majority, however, would have been needed to overturn the Plan Commission’s vote against the proposal.

Down the line, there is a chance Rush Oak Park may be presented with more zoning roadblocks to clear before expanding its campus near Madison Street and Harlem Avenue, which there are no immediate plans to do. The village board unanimously voted in favor of directing staff to plan a study session with a recommendation for hospital zoning and community engagement during the planned development process.

Residents and the board alike praised the hospital for its quality services, the board made it clear they understand neighbors feel the planned development process is stacked against them. Four residents behind the proposal – David Osta, Ann Frueh, Bruno Graziano and Mike Weik – went so far as to hire an attorney for the proceedings.

“Neighbors don’t pool their money for a lawyer for no reason,” said Village President Vicki Scaman.

 Developers wishing to build outside what zoning allows are required by the village to meet with residents within 300 feet of the property before filing a planned development application. They are further obligated to notify residents of the meeting 15 days before it takes place. For special use permit applications, developers must give residents 15 days’ notice before the special use permit hearing. Building by right does not require any community engagement.

Prior to Dr. Dino Rumoro becoming Rush Oak Park CEO in 2021, hospital leadership and the neighbors had a very poor relationship. Rumoro has pledged to correct this. However, the hospital cannot correct the relationship between the hospital’s neighbors and Plan Commission Chair Iris Sims. 

Sims accused the neighbors on Monday of trying to relitigate the past through their zoning proposal at the village board meeting. In all planning matters related to Rush Oak Park, neighbors have called upon Sims to recuse herself, yet she has never done so. Sims’ husband sits on the hospital’s board of directors, an unpaid position. The residents’ attorney told the village board he believed his clients were denied due process by Sims’ participation in the hearing.

With no financial stake in the hospital, Sims maintains she has no conflict of interest, but she still lauded Rush Oak Park for its quality and employment capabilities, while reminding the board that the previous owners of Oak Park’s other hospital filed for bankruptcy. Had the proposal passed, the zoning changes would have also affected West Suburban Medical Center.

Sims further called the neighbors “adversarial” toward the hospital for proposing the zoning changes and accused them of not wanting to mend fences with Rush Oak Park.

“They are now trying to recharacterize that and show a willingness, but that willingness wasn’t apparent during our process or prior to that,” said Sims.

This led Scaman to gently caution the chair, ultimately dismissing Sims from sharing her input any further.

“I would like to refrain from any accusations against the neighbors,” said the village president. “I think we’re done here with your participation.”

No date has been set for the planned development study session, but it will likely take place after the June 23 retirement of Tammie Grossman, director of the village’s Development Customer Services Department. Her department presently oversees planned development and zoning matters, among several others, but it is being split in to two departments: Development Services and Neighborhood Services. The latter new department will focus on neighborhood-based education, support and engagement, as well as housing.  

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