Facing criticism, Rush Oak Park delays garage

Commission asks hospital to meet with neighbors

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

Consideration of Rush Oak Park Hospital's plans to build a new 713-space parking garage is on hold until February, at the hospital's request. At a Nov. 7 public hearing in front of the Plan Commission, the hospital proposed constructing the garage as well as vacating a portion of Monroe Street between Wisconsin Avenue and Wenonah Avenue. 

The Rush proposal was met with some skepticism from the plan commission and mainly hostility from neighbors.

"The demand for parking has grown," said Robert Spadoni, Rush Oak Park Hospital vice president and chief operating officer. "I have gotten a variety of complaints, from not only the residents around there, but from patients, physicians, et cetera, about the parking problem."

 According to Spadoni, the hospital had around 8,000 to 10,000 new outpatient visits last year. The hospital expects that number to grow, with the recent opening of its new emergency department.

"The parking problem is getting pretty intense," he said. 

The proposed garage, which would be built on the site of a current hospital surface parking lot at Wenonah Avenue and Monroe Street, would prevent patients from parking on residential streets and ease traffic around the hospital, said Spadoni. Rush Oak Park has yet to choose an architect for the project. 

"We're trying to be as sensitive to the issues that the neighbors have raised with regards to the parking lot over the last couple years," he said. Issues include bright lights shining into people's homes and landscaping.

"What we're trying to get here is we're trying to close our campus, so, therefore, we don't let everybody into the neighborhood; that's the key," said Spadoni. 

Village Engineer Bill McKenna has backed the vacation of Monroe Street.

"It's a fairly significant parking garage that they're proposing. We wouldn't really want that traffic to spill into the residential neighborhood," he said. "Really, based on that site constraint, vacation of Monroe was really the best option to kind of isolate the neighborhood from the impact of traffic from that garage."

The hospital doesn't have another site on which to build the proposed parking garage, said Spadoni.

"The only other parcel we have is the one that borders Harlem and Maple. Everything else has a building on it," said Spadoni. "There's only a vacant lot on Wenonah and there's a vacant lot between Maple and Harlem between Monroe and our power plant."

The power plant precludes the hospital from building a garage on that property. However, the hospital plans to continue using it as a surface parking lot. Tearing down other hospital buildings is extremely costly, said Spadoni.

The proposed garage on Wenonah Avenue and Monroe Street would sit directly next to the current hospital parking garage. However, the two structures could not connect which would have been Spadoni's preference, due to a utility easement. The hospital expects the current garage to last at least another 10 years. 

The hospital did not reach out to any neighbors prior to bringing the proposal to the village. Reaching out to the public is not required. 

"I don't believe [the application] required it," said Spadoni. "If that's what you want us to do, we'd be happy to do that."

Eighteen people signed up to cross examine Spadoni regarding the project, but most ceded their time to consolidate questioning. David Burna of the Central West Oak Park Neighborhood Association, asked Spadoni, if it was typical to not provide documentation about other alternatives and the reason other potential sites were dismissed. 

"Are you asking them to take it at face value that the other alternatives are not viable?" Burna asked.

"I have met with the village on various occasions and we've talked through this," Spadoni responded. "I guess the answer is no."

Sean Murray, also of the Central West Oak Park Neighborhood Association, wanted to know about the previous communication between the hospital and residents. 

"The only time I have any record of you talking to the neighbors was in 2015," Murray said. "Have you talked to the neighbors since 2015 about essentially the current application?"

"So when I said I talked to neighbors, I said they called me. I didn't go out and talk to anybody," Spadoni clarified. "And you are correct. I did have a meeting with the neighbors and if you're telling me it was in '15, I believe you. It's whenever the flat level lot was."

Spadoni couldn't remember the exact dates. He did say that he had spoken recently with neighbors who had called, wanting to speak with him about the proposed parking lot. "I have not physically went to their house," Spadoni said.

Public testimony at the meeting emphasized concerns from residents about the proposed garage's effect on the neighborhood and their households. 

Following public comment, Spadoni requested that consideration of the proposal be continued until the plan commission's Feb. 6 meeting. The commission granted the continuance. Spadoni also committed to meeting with the community.

"That will give us time – I can work with the two or three people I know to figure out who I need to set up meetings with," he said. "At that point, I could bring in the architect and engineer, landscapers."

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Reader Comments

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Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 18th, 2019 11:08 AM

Having that hospital there is fantastic when you need their services, as everyone will at some point. We are lucky to have it. As a patient, parking is very difficult now and something has to be done. Hopefully the neighborhood can benefit from less on-site parking as well, so both sides need to figure this out.

Brian Souders  

Posted: November 14th, 2019 4:59 PM

Actually, this garage will go adjacent to the cureent garage where there is currently A RUSH SURFACE PARKING LOT. Also, the article says the planning commission and residents were skeptical. But it then never says what they're skeptical about...I see nothing but benefits to the community in this proposal.

Jim Kelly  

Posted: November 13th, 2019 5:05 PM

Jason, I believe the proposed garage is not a replacement but in addition to the current parking garage.

Thom Cmar from Oak Park  

Posted: November 13th, 2019 3:27 PM

One question I have after reading this article: what is the status of the power plant on the site? Is it still operating? It seems unlikely that, in the year 2019, a hospital would need to have its own power plant.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: November 13th, 2019 2:25 PM

I am a little confused. The new much larger garage will be where the current garage is so why is there concern that there will be more traffic? These people are all coming. to the hospital now but instead of actually having to drive around the neighborhood to find parking they will easily be able to park in the lot. There could be an issue while the lot is being built but won't the end result be better for the local residents?

Jim Egeberg  

Posted: November 13th, 2019 2:20 PM

I concur with Galen and Jim. I ride my bike to avoid the possibility of not finding parking at Rush. I understand the concerns of the neighborhood but the proposed solution of getting cars out of the neighborhood streets is commendable and should go forward,

Jeff Evans  

Posted: November 13th, 2019 2:15 PM

I sure hope nobody responsible for getting this delayed is also complaining about hospital staff parking on "their" street. Obviously, this garage would have alleviated that problem.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: November 13th, 2019 9:41 AM

In the musical chairs atmosphere of owning hospitals, one thing has stayed pretty consistent...Hospitals are so good at putting up garages, garages which split up and radically change the character, aesthetics, and sociology of a neighborhood. On the other hand, as a community, we are so fortunate to have the best medical care in the world at our fingertips, just for the showing up to access it. The parking problem is a double bind. It requires problem-solving of a unprecedented kind of creativity and design. What could that possibly be and how would it work? Will we, Oak Park/Rush be able to pull off solving this consideration? We are so fortunate to have an institution of the caliber of Rush Presbyterian St. Luke's in our community. Contrasting the two community hospitals in Oak Park, Rush, operating with increased and improved services, with ownership of West Suburban now by Pipeline, who closed Westlake Hospital in Melrose Park after promising the community they would keep it open, is a worrisome situation for the population served by West Suburban. It shows how little a good garage can mean in the long run for a hospital and a community. West Suburban has one.

Galen Gockel from Oak Park  

Posted: November 12th, 2019 9:14 PM

Concur with Jim Kelly. Rush Oak Park Hospital is a major asset to the entire community. It's topnotch service, including its modern and spacious emergency room, have further exacerbated an already-difficult parking situation. I recall community opposition to the professional office building which turned out to be somewhat unwarranted. I mostly have to park in nearby streets already when using the hospital.

Jim Kelly  

Posted: November 12th, 2019 6:24 PM

We are frequent visitors and patients at the hospital, and can attest to the desperate need for more parking. While the current garage is only partially open, the neighbohood's street are CLOGGED with cars belonging to hospital staff and vistors. The proposed garage is directly south of Belmont Village, a building of similar size and height. If access to the new garage would ONLY be from the west end of the alley that meets the old emergency room access, that would eliminate garage-bound traffic from impacting the neighborhood. Maple could become one-way north-bound.

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