Residents opposed to plans for Lincoln Park Hospital speak out at developer-sponsored meeting
11/17/2010 10:00 PM
Neighbors who oppose designs for a mixed-use redevelopment of the shuttered Lincoln Park Hospital are bearing down hard on the latest iteration of the plan.
Owners Michael Supera and Richard Zisook recently unveiled their revised proposal to build 162 residential units and nearly 100,000 square feet of office and retail space across the 3-acre medical campus.
The project, dubbed “Webster Square,” would reuse the hospital’s 12-story main building, located at 550 W. Webster, and develop a 12,000 square foot “boutique” grocery store at the site of an existing parking garage across the street. Designs also include six floors of medical office space, a fitness center for residents and a green roof on the parking structure.
Though garnering some local support, the plan has again received substantial disapproval from a band of neighbors who hold that the development will upset the character of the neighborhood by increasing traffic flow and pressing retail space into this historically residential pocket of Lincoln Park.
Lincoln Park resident Gary Raju said that the scaled-back plans did little to lessen his distaste for the project. Raju was one of about eighty community stakeholders who came to hash out the reworked plans at a presentation given by the development team last Wednesday.
“Both proposals are not consistent with the character of community,” said Raju, who lives just north of the main hospital building. “They’re just moving the same puzzle pieces around.”
The meeting, held in the basement of the Francis W. Parker School, was led by Marilyn Katz, a consultant hired by the developers to shop out the plan to residents.
Supera and Zisook seek a zoning change for the property, which now can only operate as a medical facility. The hospital closed in 2008.
Initial designs for the project, introduced in early 2010, imagined over 200 condo and townhouse-style residences and 30,000 square feet of retail built on the property. The proposal also hinted at leasing the retail space for a Walgreens and included senior housing in the residential piece.
This vision was met by scorn from many residents, as told by signs that read “No High-Rise, No Retail” in the windows of homes bordering the site.
Ald. Vi Daley (43rd) told residents at a town hall meeting in January that she would block the project’s advancement pending full buy-in from the neighborhood, which would likely require the deletion of retail from the plan and a markdown in residential unit density.
But if current sentiments prevail, that endorsement, regardless of the latest revision, could still be a long way off.
The continued presence of retail space in the plan remained a deal-breaker for residents who were concerned that a grocery store would increase traffic in the area and bring added risks to pedestrian safety. The project might encourage other developers to solicit similar retail components into the area, Raju said.
“Then it stops becoming a traditional working community, and it loses its charm,” he said.
During the nearly two-hour presentation, neighbors launched a volley of questions at Katz, regarding—among other things—parking arrangements, use of green space, and protocol for loading delivery trucks coming in and out of the site. Some voiced fears that the proposed grocery store would encroach on Carnival Foods, a local grocer located a block southeast of the site, while others construed that the expected visitor traffic to the development was being wrongly weighed against previous traffic levels at the hospital, which rarely came close to meeting its 450-bed capacity in the years before it closed.
Central to the message of the audience, who at times shouted over each other to speak their disdain for the plans, was the feeling that the developers had not come back with a plan different from the one they had rejected nearly a year ago.
This, coupled with fears that Daley would try to move the proposal through city approval before she leaves office in May, left neighbors ruffled.
“There’s a concern that the tide may be shifting,” stated former Ald. Marty Oberman, who had previously come out in opposition to the development. “We’re not sure when the decision is going to be made.”
About six people in the audience raised their hands when asked to identify themselves as supporters of the Webster Square plan.
After the meeting, Katz said that the developers knew they couldn’t please everyone.
“There are certain people who will not be moved, and they’ve tried to delay the process as much as they can,” she said.
The new plan, she said, contained a number of changes sensitive to the residents’ concerns. This included the removal of all retail north of Webster, no use of public alleys and no increase in building height, said Katz. “There was a lot of responsiveness,” she said.
Katz also stated that the reactions expressed at presentation, which was intended to be a private meeting, she said, were not representative of the entire neighborhood. She said that the developers had received over 150 letters of support for the new plans from residents in recent weeks.
Daley’s chief of staff Chuck Eastwood said that—despite the show of resistance at the Parker meeting—resident views on the development, as he saw it, were still “very divided,” noting the alderman’s office had also received e-mails and letters written in support of the project. Eastwood said that important thing was not to rush the process, but to identify how to move forward.
“Whether it’s this project, or a reiteration of it, or whether it’s something completely different,” he said. “You can’t just let it sit there.”
Eastwood said that a community meeting on the proposal will be held at the end of November.
Zisook and Supera won the deed to the hospital property after settling a $31 million foreclosure suit with previous owner Mark Hunt in October 2009.
The partners have completed a number of residential condo developments on the North Side over the last few decades, including, most recently, projects at 600 and 530 N. Lake Shore Drive and the Whitney at 1301 N. Dearborn.