Neighbors of West Suburban Medical Center, while not happy about proposed westward expansion to build a new emergency room, have substantially agreed to the hospital’s early plan to build a one-story structure over Humphrey Avenue.
“We are very close to something that can work for the hospital,” said West Sub CEO Jay Kruezer. “In many cases we’re already there.”
The hospital will now go to Village of Oak Park officials to see what problems, if any, they might see in the plan, which calls for vacating Humphrey. The 27,000-square-foot ER’s primary entrance is off Ontario Street and offers a patient drop-off area, free parking, and an enclosed ambulance port.
The only major sticking point between West Sub and neighbors living near the hospital was the option of allowing future development on hospital property west of Humphrey.
Neighbors developed a wish list in January for things they want or don’t want in the new ER project. They updated the list after seeing the hospital’s plan, mostly to add more clarity on landscaping to block noise, views and headlights from the hospital into nearby houses.
The list says, “If neighbors agree to construction of the ER west of the hospital, we permanently oppose any additional expansion of the hospital west of Humphrey.”
Hospital officials said they respected neighbors’ right to oppose future projects, that they presently have no plans for other projects, and they would commit to having a similar process with neighborhood input on projects needed in the future. To agree to a ban on any future building wouldn’t be fiscally responsible, and Resurrection Health Care, which owns the hospital, would never agree to it, Kruezer said. Unlike the Humphrey property intended to be used for the new ER, which is zoned residential, other hospital-owned land west of Humphrey is already zoned for hospital use. The hospital has the right to build on that land now.
But Joe Steffen of the 200 block of North Taylor Avenue in Oak Park said the ER project represents the “thin edge of the wedge” that neighbors fear will be driven into their neighborhood.
And Lori Portnoy of the 200 block of North Taylor Avenue said the hospital shouldn’t underestimate the ill will it engendered among some neighbors during its last building project a decade ago.
“Believe me, there are plenty of people willing to go to every zoning meeting or whatever it takes” to fight a project, Portnoy said. “I have neighbors not talking to me because I’m consorting with the enemy.”
There was also some discussion about whether parking and vehicle access should be removed from the westernmost portion of the ER plan, where cars could pass from Ontario through to the hospital’s parking garage, Austin Boulevard, or continue westward on Humphrey. Jennifer Misiak of the 100 block of North Humphrey Avenue argued for a pass-through closer to the ER entrance. Blocking that traffic could force traffic and parking back onto Ontario, though, and a pass-through would push the ER farther away from other medical services such as the surgical wing.
Jim Slama, of the 100 block of North Humphrey Avenue, asked that in return for neighbors’ approval of the project the hospital lend administrative and financial help in pushing for a planning process for the Lake Street/Austin Boulevard business area.
“You’re about to ‘pave paradise and put up a parking lot.’ We would like to get something back,” Slama said. The possibility of ALDI, 25 Lake St., expanding brought on the need for a plan, he said.
Hospital officials said they already participate in the Oak Park Development Corp. and weigh in on redevelopment issues village-wide, and that they would work with neighbors and the village on a planning process.
Tom Coffey, who moderates the neighborhood committee meetings, said neighbors need to stay involved.
“Once we are grounded in where the village is on [the preliminary plan] we’ll need to reconvene and get everybody up to date,” Coffey said. The group will come together again in about a month.