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Children's Memorial Redevelopment Targeted in Neighborhood Groups' Lawsuit

By Paul Biasco | June 9, 2014 8:50am
 Lisa Barrow, a platintiff in the lawsuit, speaks at a press conference announcing the suit against the city in front of a home in the 700 block of W. Fullerton Ave. Monday morning.
Lisa Barrow, a platintiff in the lawsuit, speaks at a press conference announcing the suit against the city in front of a home in the 700 block of W. Fullerton Ave. Monday morning.
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DNAinfo/Paul Biasco

LINCOLN PARK — Neighborhood groups have announced plans to file a last-ditch lawsuit to stop the redevelopment of the Children's Memorial Hospital site.

Residents and members of the Mid-North Association and Park West Community Association, both plaintiffs in the lawsuit, are seeking to block the $350 million project that would transform the 6-acre site.

The groups plan to file the lawsuit Monday.

The lawsuit alleges the city's approval to rezone the site near the intersection of Lincoln and Fullerton avenues paved the way for a development that is "dramatically inconsistent with the height and scale of the surrounding neighborhood."

The City Council approved zoning for the project in early April without debate.

 The proposal for the Children's Memorial Hospital development
The proposal for the Children's Memorial Hospital development
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McCaffery Interests

Paul Biasco discusses the lawsuit from the CMH site on DNAinfo Radio:

The developer's plan calls for 540 apartments divided between two 21-story apartment towers, a 60-condominium building, 156 assisted-living units, 105,000 square feet of retail space and a five-story fitness center.

Most zoning in the neighborhood has a cap of 65 feet.

"What is the point of having zoning laws at all when it has now become so easy to simply pass an ordinance that invalidates current zoning and is against the wishes of the vast majority of residents?" said Lisa Barrow, a member of both Mid-North and Park West and an individual plaintiff in the lawsuit.

About 50 residents of the neighborhood packed into the front lawn of a home directly across from the old hospital site Monday morning to announce the lawsuit.

The suit was funded by the two neighborhood groups and five individual plaintiffs.

Norm Wolfe, a 26-year-old resident of the neighborhood, represented Park West, arguing the development has no place in the low-rise-dominated neighborhood.

"It's also abundantly obvious that the city council failed to consider what impact this giant twin towers development would have on the quality of life of those who chose a low rise community and continue to live here because of it," Wolfe said. 

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) called the lawsuit "unfortunate," but said it shouldn't be a distraction from moving the project forward.

"This plan was the result of hundreds of hours of negotiations and public meetings involving thousands of residents," Smith said.

Many of those in attendance said they voted for Smith in 2011 because Smith had publicly opposed any development that exceeded buildings taller than those on the current hospital site.

"What is very puzzling to us is how Alderman Michele Smith could run on a platform to protect residents from 'zoning disasters' and then become this development's staunchest ally," Barrow said.

Smith disputed that, saying she has lived up to "every pledge I've made on my campaign.

"I ran to make sure the neighborhood was protected from inappropriate development and that's why we had an over two-year-long process," Smith said.

The plaintiffs also point to a 2012 letter the city's Department of Planning and Development Commissioner Andrew Mooney sent to the developer rejecting the zoning request because "no such districts exist on any adjacent or nearby parcels."

The two neighborhood groups bringing the lawsuit against the city had been fighting both the height and density of the project for years leading up to the suit.

The groups had argued the developer, Dan McCaffery, should not have been allowed to build anything higher than the now-shuttered hospital.

Wolfe said an additional rationale for filing the suit is to prevent other similar development from occurring across the city.

The developers behind one project, the proposed 10-story Lincoln Centre slated for roughly three blocks north on Lincoln, already cited the Children's Memorial Hospital development in their bid to rezone their property.

"We are not setting any new precedent here," said Lincoln Centre developer Dan Slack at a community meeting in May. "Two towers were recently approved on the Children's Memorial site."

Supporters of the hospital site project, including Ald. Smith, hoped it would provide a boost to Lincoln Park.

Demolition was slated to begin as early as this fall, and construction would take about three years.

The Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce released a statement against the lawsuit stating the "vocal minority" do not reflect a majority of the community.

"For three years the former Children's Memorial Hospital site sat vacant while the neighborhood debated - and the developer continued to compromise - the future of the project," said Kim Schlif, president and CEO of the chamber. "Meanwhile, for three years many businesses across Lincoln Park have been forced to tread water and several have closed as a direct result."

The project is expected to generate more than $120 million in new tax revenue for the city an create 2,500 construction jobs and 250 permanent jobs.

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