Children's Memorial developer to 'wait out' lawsuit

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Developer Dan McCaffery said Monday he would await the outcome of a lawsuit challenging his $350 million plan to redevelop the Lincoln Park site of the now-shuttered Children’s Memorial Hospital before purchasing the 6.2-acre parcel.

“We have a contract to acquire it, but we don’t have to acquire it until everything is settled. We’ll wait it out,” McCaffery said.

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 square feet of retail space.

The Circuit Court suit filed Monday by a pair of Lincoln Park community groups argues that the “height, proportions and scale, and density of uses” are “significantly greater” than the rest of the neighborhood and are “wholly inconsistent and out of character with neighborhood land uses” that allow buildings no higher than 65 feet.

It further contends that the project will diminish property values, lacks sufficient parking and will “adversely impact traffic movements,” causing intersections to “operate at unacceptable levels of service.”

On Monday, McCaffery strongly disagreed.

“I try to do quality development. We wouldn’t be proposing something we think is horrible and out of character,” he said.

McCaffery said the legal arguments made by area residents were unanimously rejected by the Chicago Plan Commission, the City Council’s Zoning Committee and the full City Council.

“At any time and place, if someone built two stories and the buildings around it were one story, you could say it was out of context. The Empire State Building and the World Trade Center were taller than the buildings around it. That doesn’t make it wrong” or illegal, the developer said.

“Zoning does not mean that, forever and a day, things cannot change. Look at the Park Hyatt on Michigan Ave. Zoning around it is around 22 stories. That [hotel] is 80 stories. Zoning is a set of standards. Then it’s available to anybody to make a case to go higher, wider, longer. A lot of times, you get turned down.”

McCaffery maintained that the density he proposed was “well offset by the amount of open space” he built into the massive project with parks and fountains.

“We’re not getting anything for nothing. This was a very hard-fought project that got a tremendous amount of neighborhood input. There were 62 meetings. It’s not as if we didn’t reach out to the community,” he said.

“But, you have to accept the fact that you’re not going to get unanimity. In a political run-off in America, 56 percent is a landslide.”

Local Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) 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-dilapidated 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,” the alderman said Monday.

“Everyone is within their rights to file a lawsuit. [But], the development is moving forward.”

Smith said 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.

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