Our neighborhood is about to undergo its greatest change in 50 years. Lincoln Park Hospital, a 3 acre site, is already vacant and has been purchased by a developer, and Children's Memorial, two blocks away, is closing in 2012. What is built on these sites will have a tremendous impact on our community - and we need to get it right. The current plan being put forth has already met with substantial community opposition. Here's the background and what you can do about the proposal.
There has been a small hospital on the corner of Geneva and Webster for a century. Even then, the neighborhood was residential, with small shops and bars along Lincoln and Larrabee. In the 60s, the city designated the area around the hospital a "conservation area" and later designated it an official city historic landmark district. In the 70s, the commercial area on Larrabee was demolished and developed into the Walpole Point townhouses, as part of an overall plan to make the area residential.
The current hospital tower was built in 1972, over the opposition of then-Alderman Bill Singer and after a lawsuit by the Mid-North Association tried to stop it because the proposed hospital violated the residential plans for the neighborhood. The neighbors especially opposed the parking garage because Webster Street had always been low-rise residential - three flats and single family. More suits followed each time the hospital wanted to expand. The neighbors eventually were able to limit the height of the hospital tower and the parking garage, and received other concessions.
Today, the landmark Mid-North historic district and townhouses surround the hospital. But a developer wants to build two large (total 50,000 sq. ft.) retail stores on Webster, put retail on Geneva Terrace, enlarge the parking garage for those stores, and convert the hospital into a twelve-story condominium building with 330 units. After all, the developer argues, the tower and garage are already there. Why not reuse them - even if that ignores the underlying low-rise residential zoning of the land, the historic agreements with the community, and the impact on a quiet residential neighborhood?
Our community has fought long and hard to save its historic residential character and not let it be overrun with high rises, retail malls and traffic. We have invested in our historic homes because we value the look and feel of this community. If a high rise is allowed at Lincoln Park Hospital, what will be the impact a block away, at Children's? And we don't need even more retail in our neighborhood, especially large stores. There are 46 empty storefronts within several blocks of the Lincoln Park Hospital.
It boils down to this - it may be hard for neighbors to fight building a hospital, but DARN if we have to let someone take advantage of concessions given to a hospital to build a high rise and a strip mall in the middle of an historic district.
If you don't think the community can make a difference, you are wrong. Augustana Hospital stood on the property between Sedgwick, Lincoln and Dickens. When it closed, a builder proposed two high-rise apartment buildings. The neighbors fought back and achieved the very successful Pointe townhouse complex. And another group of neighbors stopped the development of a huge indoor auto mall on Wells Street just two years ago.
There are neighbors already organizing to put the community's voice front and center in this dispute, and I support them. If you are concerned about this potential zoning disaster, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and email email@example.com if you want to be kept informed about what your neighbors and neighborhood associations are doing.
Let's support sane development in our community.