Lincoln Park Hospital redevelopment chugging along, despite Ald. Smith's attempts to derail it

07/27/2011 10:00 PM

Contributing Reporter

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Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) continues to pick away at redevelopment plans for Lincoln Park Hospital, but the developers say her chances of changing the project are slim.

Designs for the Webster Square project, headed by Sandz Development, envision a cluster of medical offices, condos and a 20,000-square-foot grocery store lining the eastern corners of the intersection at Lincoln and Webster avenues and Larrabee Street in the middle of a Lincoln Park residential neighborhood.

Sandz has touted the project as an adaptive reuse that will bring the shuttered 3-acre hospital campus back onto the area’s tax rolls.

But not everyone in the neighborhood shares the developer’s enthusiasm.

A vocal group of residents who live in proximity to the site have railed against the plan since it was first introduced in late 2009. They claim that the redevelopment — and particularly the grocery store — will cause unmanageable traffic issues in the already-congested neighborhood.

Those cries have caught the attention of Smith, who vowed during her aldermanic campaign earlier this year to block the Webster Square project pending full resident buy-in.

Smith took office in May, just days after the city approved a zoning change for the redevelopment. She replaced former Ald. Vi Daley, who backed the plan in its present iteration before retiring.

Since then, the new alderman has stayed on the heels of Sandz, pushing the firm to negotiate while testing the city’s zoning code for loopholes that could nullify the project.

A few days after her inauguration, Smith introduced an amendment that sought to restrict the sale of liquor within the boundaries of the hospital property, stating that the area was “adversely affected by the over-concentration of businesses licensed to sell alcoholic liquor.”

If passed, the ordinance would have checked operations at the grocery store, but the measure was held up by the Committee on License and Consumer Protection a few weeks later, and has remained deferred.

During that time, a group of neighbors led by another former alderman, Marty Oberman, filed a lawsuit against the city and the developers charging that the approved plan violates long-held neighborhood zoning provisions.

Smith also drafted an ordinance that called on the city to rezone the property to a residential-only use, which would effectively shut down any commercial or retail elements on the site. That amendment has yet to have its day in council chambers, as it was deferred from a meeting of the city’s Zoning Committee on July 17.

In a newsletter sent out a week earlier, Smith stated that she had delayed that meeting because “constructive conversations” were currently underway with the developer.

As of this week, though, Smith told Skyline that there was currently “nothing to report” regarding her discussions with Sandz.

“We’re still talking,” she said.

While her efforts to flex the Webster Square plan speak to Smith’s dedication to the issue, there may not be much left to talk about, Sandz Vice President David Goldman said on Monday.

“We’ve been trying to work with her … and come to something that’s an amicable settlement that we can all live with,” he said, “but we have the zoning in place right now to proceed with the project, which is what we are doing.”

Goldman said that his firm saw “very little reason” for the city to pass either of Smith’s ordinances, noting that many of the changes that needed to happen in the plan occurred over the nearly two-year review process that Sandz participated in with Daley and the Lincoln Park community.

Over the course of those meetings, the developers tweaked a number of aspects of the plan, including the height of the residential buildings and the truck entry routes into the grocery store’s loading area.

“We feel that our rights to develop the property are pretty solid,” said Goldman.

Sandz hopes to have the grocery store finished within a year, with a final completion date for the commercial and residential portions of the project about four years out.

Though Smith’s labors have yet to bear much fruit in the case of Webster Square, naysayers of the plan appear to still have faith.

“She’s trying to undo it, but she’s meeting tremendous resistance,” said Ed Burnes, a Lincoln Park resident who was among those neighbors that filed the lawsuit.

Burnes said that the plan is “no more popular now than it ever was,” adding that Smith’s ordinances looking at liquor licensing and rezoning were “appropriate.”

“The problem that exists now is the same problem that has always existed,” he said. “You simply can’t make a grocery store fit onto this site.”

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By ChicagoPJS from Lincoln Park
Posted: 08/01/2011 12:40 PM

You know what really doesn't fit on the site? A vacant hospital.