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Facing criticism, Rush Oak Park delays garage

Commission asks hospital to meet with neighbors

November 12th, 2019 1:47 PM

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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