Groups file suit to stop project on Children's Memorial site

Written By Fran Spielman Posted: 06/09/2014, 12:34pm

Two Lincoln Park community groups plan filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to block a $350 million plan to transform Chicago’s premier development parcel: the six-acre site that once was home to Children’s Memorial Hospital.

Lead plaintiffs in the suit are the Mid-North Association, representing more than 400 National Register Historic District homeowners who live closest to the project, and the Park West Community Association. Five individual residents also are named as plaintiffs in the Circuit Court suit.

It seeks to overturn the zoning change approved by the City Council and to enjoin Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration from issuing construction permits or force it to rescind permits already issued.

Developer Dan McCaffery wants to create a new neighborhood crossroad that includes: a pair of 21-story, 270-unit residential towers; 60 condominiums; 156 assisted-living units; a five-story health club; and 100,000 quare feet of retail space.

Mid-North Association President Josh Glazier has argued the massive, 214-foot-high project is “out of character for low-rise Lincoln Park and Mid-North” and simply too dense for the already-congested neighborhood to swallow.

The lawsuit makes those same claims and more.

It argues that the “height, proportions and scale, and density of uses” are “significantly greater” than exist elsewhere in the neighborhood and, therefore, are “wholly inconsistent and out of character with neighborhood land uses” that allow buildings no higher than 65 feet.

The lawsuit further contends the project will diminish property values and lacks sufficient parking, thereby depriving already-scarce on-street parking to residents of six streets: Orchard, Kemper Place, Geneva Terrace, Belden, Burling and Arlington Place.

The density will also “adversely impact traffic movements,” causing intersections to “operate at unacceptable levels of service” with loading docks positioned in a way that will make traffic even worse, the lawsuit states.

“The planned development approved by Ald. [Michele] Smith and her colleagues is so incongruous with nearby properties, we can’t help but wonder how this deal got done and how any alderman who approved it could possibly think this development will enhance the quality of life,” plaintiff Lisa Barrow was quoted as saying in press release.

Resident Norm Wolfe stressed that area residents are not anti-development. But, he argued, high-rise development “belongs at the lakefront or downtown in areas that are already zoned for it — not in the center of our low-rise neighborhood….This is irresponsible and reckless development that will only serve as a detriment to the neighborhood.”

Smith, the 43rd Ward alderman, called the lawsuit “unfortunate,” but said it should not distract from the fact that a “vast majority” of 43rd Ward residents wanted to forge ahead with McCaffery’s plan to “transform a now-dillapidated site into a new neighborhood crossroad” for Lincoln Park.

“Every significant economic development deserves robust debate. We had one here. [But[, even after two years, the outcome won’t satisfy everyone,” she said.

“We went through a full, robust community  process and council process. Everyone is within their rights to file a lawsuit. [But], the development is moving forward.”

Smith said the concerns raised in Monday’s lawsuit were “very carefully vetted” and addressed–both in the planned development approved by the City Council and in the “very detailed community agreement” she negotiated with McCaffery.

“We’re always concerned about the closest residents. That’s why we very painstakingly negotiated…everything from historic preservation and traffic controls to residential parking and even construction protocols. We have been very mindful throughout this process about the concerns of the immediate residents,” she said.

Lincoln Park residents have warned of a political backlash. But, Smith said Monday she plans to seek re-election, presumably with the formidable support from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a key backer of the Children’s Memorial project.

“My job today is to be doing the very best I can for my community and I will continue to do so,” she said.

The project is expected to create 2,500 construction jobs and 250 permanent positions as well as generate $122 million in new tax revenue.

Before the lawsuit was filed, McCaffery’s plan was to begin three-to-seven months of demolition as early as this fall, then embark on three years of construction.

In 2011, Smith narrowly defeated opponent Tim Egan in 2011 with support from Mid-North homeowners after campaigning on her opposition to the redevelopment of the old Grant Hospital site.

During Plan Commission debate, one critic went so far as to call Smith “our wonderful alderman who has betrayed us” and predict that Smith would be defeated in 2015.

Smith has repeatedly refused to discuss the impact on the upcoming aldermanic election — nor would she confirm plans to seek re-election.

She has only said: “I’ve lived up to every pledge that I’ve made as alderman. And I’m very comfortable that we fought very hard for the community to reach a development that’s supported by the vast majority of the community.”

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