PORTAGE PARK — Developers walked neighbors through their plan on Thursday to build a three-story, 66-bed assisted living facility on a Portage Park lot that's spent 13 years as an empty grass field.
Anthem Memory Care's 12th facility — and fourth in the Chicago area — could only be built if a zoning change is approved by Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th). The for-profit company provides housing and support services for people suffering from Alzheimer's Disease and "other dementias, including Lewy Body, vascular and Parkinson’s dementias," according to its website.
Unlike most assisted-living facilities, which house bedridden or physically ailing seniors, Anthem's facility would let residents with memory disorders "roam freely without feeling restrained," while up to 50 staffers combine for 24-hour care, owner Isaac Scott said.
Anthem Memory Care owner Isaac Scott describes the planned facility during a meeting at Chicago Academy High School, 3400 N. Austin Ave. [DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin]
Scott and his team found an "unmet need" for senior care in Portage Park, and they were further drawn by the proximity of Community First Medical Center, 5645 W. Addison St., he said.
Permanent residences would start around $4,000 per month, with options ranging from shared rooms to private suites, Scott said. The price covers three daily meals, round-the-clock supervision and a host of daytime activities.
Surrounding the 37-foot tall building would be 31 parking spaces and three protected outdoor spaces, Scott said.
The 2-acre property at 3655 N. Central Ave. hosted a Dominick's supermarket until 2004, when the store was closed and demolished. A CVS Pharmacy was later built facing Addison Street, while the northern half of the lot remained empty.
In January 2016, developer Full Circle Communities proposed a 55-unit mixed-income housing facility for the site. But when neighbors torched the proposal at a public meeting, Villegas scuttled the plan and changed the zoning on the property "so that the community would have a voice" in how it would be developed, he said.
Developer Bernard Edelman, whose real estate company Innovative Markets Inc. bought the Portage Park lot from Heidner Properties in February, told the audience Thursday it was "made perfectly clear" that the community wouldn't abide another proposal for affordable housing.
"I wouldn't insult the neighborhood by even thinking like that," Edelman told the crowd of about 80 onlookers at Chicago Academy High School, 3400 N. Austin Ave.
The vacant lot at 3655 N. Central Ave., shown before its February sale to developer Bernard Edelman [DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin]
Opponents of the Full Circle proposal banded together and founded the West Portage Park Neighbors Association, whose leaders have since shifted their focus to spurring retail development along the neighborhood's thoroughfares.
While association vice president Mike Helm called Anthem Memory Care "a good fit" for the neighborhood, members had been holding out hope for a bar or restaurant, he said.
But Edelman and the previous owner had both tried to market the property to retail tenants, Edelman said. Neither found any takers.
"A lot of people think putting up a shopping center means that you build it first and tenants will come, but that’s a recipe for economic disaster," Edelman told DNAinfo. "Especially where, as great a neighborhood Portage Park is, it’s fraught with storefront vacancies."
Plus, Edelman added, Dominick's and CVS "burdened the property" with restrictive covenants narrowing the scope of goods that could be sold there. Any business on the site would be forbidden from selling groceries, flowers, chocolates or greeting cards.
In contrast to last year's dramatic Full Circle Communities presentation, Scott's proposal drew praise from nearly every person who took the microphone Thursday. Some neighbors raised cautious questions over the facility's affordability or its potential to slow down traffic, but none rejected the proposal outright.
Bob Jacobson, who owns the sandwich shop Bob-o-Rino's, 3435 N. Central Ave., yearned for the return of the "thriving medical community" that stoked his business in the years after its 1977 founding, he said.
"It was a wonderful thing, but over the years it's changed quite a bit," Jacobson said. "This is a wonderful idea, and hopefully it gets us back to where we were."
If the proposal clears the zoning approval process without any hiccups, construction could begin as soon as spring, Scott said. It would be ready for residents about a year later.
A projected overhead view of the proposed facility [36th Ward]