West Suburban Medical Center’s bid to build a new emergency room won a key victory last week when the Oak Park village board gave the green light to tear down a 1914 graystone two-flat.

The board voted 5-2 last Thursday night to overturn a decision by the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission not to allow demolition of the building, which was deemed a “contributing” structure on hospital property in the Ridgeland-Oak Park Historic District. Trustees Robert Milstein and Martha Brock cast the dissenting votes.

“There ain’t no way I’m gonna vote to knock that house down,” Milstein said. “Right at this moment it is a symbol of our residential community.”

The board majority, however, found that the benefits of a new ER trumped any benefits to keeping the two-flat, which has been vacant for two decades.

The marathon six-hour meeting was not long enough to decide the entire matter of West Sub’s proposed expansion, though, and key discussions remain for the board before it decides on granting a change in zoning for the area of the new ER and whether to vacate-and sell to the hospital-part of Humphrey Avenue.

The sale price for the land is $445,000.

Board members grappled with concerns raised by neighbors, who grew increasingly agitated as the night wore on. Those concerns included, among others, the hospital’s future expansion plans, and granting H-Hospital zoning that could allow future development of buildings up to 125 feet high separated from a residential neighborhood by only an alley.

However, the board could not add conditions to its granting approval for the two-flat teardown. Those conditions-such as requiring the hospital to meet with neighbors over the next year to recommend how zoning at the site might be changed to address both neighbors’ and the hospital’s needs-will likely be attached to an approval of street vacation.

“That dialogue has to occur, and we have to find a way to help make that happen,” Village President David Pope said.

The meeting was continued to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 18.

The hospital rallied its supporters Thursday night with the help of red signs and buttons, which were spread through roughly half of the 80 or so people attending the meeting. Neighbors opposing the project were not similarly bedecked with team-like identifiers, and railed against the hospital for what some called “bullying” tactics.

“I find the signs and the buttons to be a slap in the face,” said Larry Drumm, of the 100 block of North Humphrey Avenue.

“It’s a bullying tactic and you all should really be ashamed,” said Germaine Caprio, also of the 100 block of North Humphrey.

A citizens group pushing for better patient care and the organization of a labor union at West Sub and all Resurrection hospitals wore white T-shirts that read: “West Sub:/Put Patients First/Treat Workers Fairly.”

Members of that group urged the board to require West Sub, as part of approval of the project, to provide “passionate” outreach to uninsured patients, to ensure the hospital maintains proper nurse-to-patient ratios, and to reinstate a policy of providing cab fare for patients leaving the hospital without a ride home.

The board deliberated for nearly two hours before voting on the teardown, with many members emphasizing the difficulty in the decision.

“This isn’t as easy an issue as some on each side want to paint it,” Pope said. Most people support historic preservation to some degree, so the question becomes when is it appropriate, he said.

Pope said neighbors had legitimate fears, but that framing the matter as a fight between those who support or don’t support the hospital created an “artificial dichotomy.”

Although the Historic Preservation Commission voted against the teardown, Chair Doug Gilbert emphasized that the commission’s role is limited and admitted that the board might consider other factors. Gilbert said that although the two-flat was considered a “contributing” structure, he did not remember “any discussion of it being [a] ‘significant’ [structure].”

Trustee Greg Marsey admitted that a major factor leading to his being elected was his participation in the fight against the Whiteco development being built at the corner of Harlem Avenue and Ontario Street. That made his decision to vote against the neighbors’ wishes a “tough one.”

“I know what you all are going through,” Marsey said. “I was you and still am you in many respects.”

Brock, who left the chambers coughing at least twice, said her voice was failing her and she could therefore not offer explanation of her “no” vote.

Milstein said the decision was a symbol of the fight in Oak Park between big corporations and residential neighborhoods.

“Money trumps everything, and money wins tonight,” he said.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

More than 20 citizens spoke to the village board last week to urge it to rule either in favor or against West Suburban’s bid to tear down a two-flat to make room for a new ER. Here are some quotes from some of the speakers.

In favor

“If one life-just one precious life-can be saved … then tear that building down.”

Gary Mancuso, President of the Oak Park Board of Realtors

“Oak Park is not known for its graystones.”

Rich Downs, 900 block of
North Taylor Avenue

“Change happens. Change is necessary.”

Sheila Rock, 800 block of
North Oak Park Avenue

“This hospital is an important anchor for Oak Park.”

Rev. Stan Stephens, 600 block of North Ridgeland Avenue

“We all had to give in for the greater good.”

Lynn Winikates, 600 block of Keystone Avenue, River Forest, referring to living across from recently installed lights
at Keystone Park.

“My wife and I strongly believe West Suburban has been a good neighbor over the years.”

Mike Bielawa, 200 block of
North Taylor Avenue


“Tonight you decide the fate of our

neighborhood for the next 20 years.”

Joe Steffen, 200 block of
North Taylor Avenue

“There is no do-over here.”

J.D. McKibben, 100 block of
North Humphrey Avenue

“Our integrity is at stake.”

Andy Kaczkowski, 100 block of
North Taylor Avenue

“We’re not against an emergency room. We’re against the way it’s been proposed.”

J.D. McKibben, 100 block of
North Humphrey Avenue

“There is no such thing as a quiet night on my block” since the last West Sub expansion.

Germaine Caprio, 100 block of
North Humphrey Avenue

“I have no doubt in my mind that I was

personally and directly lied to.”

Larry Drumm, 100 block of
North Humphrey Avenue

“They shouldn’t be rewarded with that type of behavior.”

Peter Dowd, 200 block of North Taylor Avenue, referring to what he felt was West Sub’s bad process and lack of communication with neighbors.

The lighter side

“I walk a poodle every night.”

Trustee Milstein

Trustee Milstein said he’d been to the West Sub ER as a patient. Trustee Gockel jokingly suggested he should recuse himself from voting.

“I would recuse myself,” Milstein said, “but I was bleeding at the time.”

(After his cell phone rang) “It’s my dog. He’s calling.”

Trustee Milstein, as the meeting
neared its end at 1 a.m. Friday