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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What’s Next for Children’s Memorial Hospital?

I wanted to share my notes of the recent community meeting held at St. Vincent DePaul Center regarding the Children’s Memorial site.

Alderman Vi Daley and the City of Chicago Planning Department hosted the meeting to introduce Hellmuth, Obata & Kassabaum, Inc. (HOK), a well respected land use and architecture firm, who apparently will be leading a four month investigation into potential uses for the Children’s Memorial site.

Here is the link from Alderman Daley’s website describing the firm.
http://www.chicago43rd.org/index.aspx?loc=2&dbx=224&sub=1

Todd Meyer, HOK principal, led the meeting and explained that the scope of work for which HOK was retained is as follows:
Market analysis
Historic Structure analysis
Site Analysis
Refine Initial Conceptual Recommendations

Meyer showed a site map and commented on its excellent proximity to transportation, shopping, schools, open space, especially highlighting its proximity to DePaul University and its expanding campus, as well as Lincoln Elementary.

These characteristics make the site extremely valuable from a market and an urban planning perspective. HOK posed some questions:

Could there be some civic open space, indoor or outdoor?
Could its position on the street be taken advantage of to benefit the community?
The site in in the line of the expansion to date by DePaul. Could it part of the expansion of DePaul?
Or perhaps local elementary schools?

HOK and the City reviewed the site’s zoning, noting that it is a planned development (PD158) zoned only for hospital use at this time. It was acknowledged that given the size of the site, it would need to be a planned development. This means, in practical terms, that the eventual developer would have to negotiate the zoning with the city.

HOK emphasized that their role was NOT to actually design the site, but to review the situation and present a range of options that would be feasible; to give a road map of what is possible.

They have a four month timeline, with a possible 3 or 4 community meetings to receive input. Children's has not even begun to market the property, according to the consultants.

HOK introduced the following as their team:

Alderman Daley and her staff
City of Chicago Department of Planning
HOK
Economic Research Associates
(ERA) has been retained to assess the market value of the property.
Metro Tranportation has been retained to assess what traffic and access demands any redevelopment would put on the community
Granacki Historic Consultants has been retained to consult on the historic aspects of the site http://www.historicpreservationchicago.com/index.html
Flowers Communications will handle public relations for the project

HOK emphasized that they had no preconceived notions for the site and wanted input.

The following questions and comments were put forth:

What guarantees will the community have that an eventual developer will comply with any recommendations that come out of the study?

A representative of the Jane Adams Senior Caucus reminded the audience that several precincts in Lincoln Park had passed an “inclusionary housing ordinance” requiring a certain percentage of units in any development be set aside for affordable housing and asked Alderman Daley for her support. Alderman Daley said she would consider it.

It was noted that five neighborhood groups bordered on Children’s because the hospital blocked access through the neighborhood and it was suggested that Burling Street and Kemper be reopened to reestablish the street grid in that area. There was serious opposition to this suggestion.

It was suggested that a strong “community benefits agreement” be enacted as part of the planned development to ensure that the developer is bound to provide specified public benefits.

Other suggestions from the floor:
Relocate the Lincoln Park Public Library to the site Expand Lincoln Elementary
Create affordable housing
Locate a grocery store or hotel on the site
Implement communications upgrades
Create a mixed use “community crossroads” with open space, public meeting space, housing, hotel, etc.

Former alderman Marty Oberman noted that, in his experience, the market price approach will always favor the so-called “highest and best use”; that is, one that maximizes the financial return to the owner. That would likely be a big residential high rise. Thus, if this is truly a plan to benefit the community, the plan should drive the price of the property, the price should not drive the plan.

Another participant asked, “How can this work? Children’s wants to maximize their revenue. So does the city.”

Many questions, including my own, centered around community involvement in and building community support for the eventual plan. While the HOK process included some community meetings, it did not appear that community members would be “rolling up their sleeves.” How will true community concensus be achieved.

There is a possibility of putting in an office in the neighborhood where people could get and give information. Alderman Daley also promised a website about the process

Several people also expressed concern about the demolition process and asked for assurances that demolition would take place safely and without the release any toxic waste.

I asked that the recently shuttered Lincoln Park Hospital be put in the planning process. I also suggested that the Steering Committee should have community members - residents and business owners - included. We have a wealth of knowledge in the 43rd Ward, with many architects and planners in our midst.

Alderman Daley replied that she hoped she did not have to wait until 2012 to resolve the use of Lincoln Park Hospital and that she had already spoken with the owner, who was considering converting it to senior housing.

I for one, believe there should be strong community involvement in this process and would like to call for a working Steering Committee to oversee and observe the process over the 4 months designated.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Has Vi Daley posted a summary of the meeting anywhere?