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Neighbors Blast Ald. Smith's Children's Memorial Hospital Deal

By Paul Biasco | February 5, 2014 9:08am
 Architect Joe Antunovich explains the proposal from the Children's Memorial Hospital redevelopment to neighborhood residents at a meeting held by the Mid-North Association Tuesday night.
Architect Joe Antunovich explains the proposal from the Children's Memorial Hospital redevelopment to neighborhood residents at a meeting held by the Mid-North Association Tuesday night.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Spaces and Views was closed. The business at 2310 N. Lincoln Ave. remains open.

LINCOLN PARK — More than 150 furious residents from areas surrounding the Children's Memorial redevelopment site blasted Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) at a meeting Tuesday night, saying the proposed project would be too tall.

Others, though, said the long delay of the redevelopment was harming neighborhood businesses.

The meeting at Francis W. Parker School, which had been called more than two weeks in advance by Mid-North Association, was originally planned to discuss the proposal presented in January for the site.

Instead, it turned into a last-ditch effort to stop Smith from moving forward with a proposal that she announced Monday night. That plan is headed for the city's plan commission Feb. 20.

Most in attendance voiced outrage over the height of the planned buildings — 190 feet — and questioned the $50 million sale price that developer Daniel McCaffery has agreed to pay Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago if the deal goes through as proposed.

"Everything in this room has to do with a $50 million price tag," said Thad Wong, a neighborhood resident and co-founder of @Properties.

Wong and others in attendance argued the process of designing the development should have been centered around an agreed upon height and density by neighbors rather than a price tag.

The alderman and McCaffery attended, with McCaffery telling the crowd  he would walk away from the project if Smith and the community asked the hospital's board to consider a lower price point.

Added Smith: "If somebody here doesn’t think that we have gone toe to toe with one of the most powerful institutions in the city of Chicago, excuse me, we did...We held our breath and forced, we did force Children's to take frankly an unprecedented cost reduction on a new development.”

At a community meeting in January, Peter Bensiger, vice chairman of the board of the Lurie Children's Research Center, said the original proposal in 2012 was contracted at $64.5 million and the $50 million for a slimmed-down proposal was a compromise.

One member of the audience Tuesday night presented a petition with more than 400 signatures gathered in the neighborhood over the past two weeks opposing the project.

The consensus of the crowd, which was represented by neighbors in the Mid-North and Park West neighborhoods, was that the developer should not be allowed to build higher than the hospital was allowed, 75 feet.

The proposal which Smith and McCaffery plan to present to the plan commission features two apartment buildings of 190 feet each.

Numerous audience members at Tuesday's meeting suggested that Smith had expressed reservations years ago about tall buildings in the neighborhood. They pointed to emails Smith sent in 2009, when she was then the 43rd Ward Democratic Committeeman, during discussions surrounding the redevelopment of Lincoln Park Hospital.

"If a high rise is allowed at Lincoln Park Hospital, what will be the impact a block away, at Children's?" Smith wrote in the 2009 email.

"This is not Streeterville, this is not Manhattan. This is Lincoln Park," said Jay Armstrong, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years. "Alderman, I voted for you to stop this kind of development.”

When Smith spoke at the end of the meeting, she said that the main reason the density of the project was greater than the former Children's Memorial hospital was due to the inclusion of affordable housing in the plan.

The proposal calls for 60 of the 760 total residential units to be affordable units.

Another concern raised by neighbors was traffic on Fullerton Avenue as well as truck traffic coming in and out of the proposed main loading dock at Fullerton and Orchard.

McCaffery said he and his team studied the area intensely, and the loading entrance off of Fullerton was the only approach that worked for the project.

Not all neighbors were upset with the plan, as some voiced support for the proposal and what it could do for local businesses.

Rick Baumgarten, owner of Spaces and Views on Lincoln Avenue and a current neighborhood resident, said the traffic problem already existed in the neighborhood when the hospital was operating.

"Traffic was not great," he said. "I see Lincoln Avenue going downhill and going downhill badly and fast."

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