Plan Commission to Advocate Christ: ‘You Didn’t Answer Our Questions’
Oak Lawn Planning and Development Commission stands firm in refusing to give its recommendation to medical center expansion plans until Advocate Christ sufficiently addresses neighborhood concerns.
The Oak Lawn Planning and Development Commission respectfully refused to reopen a public hearing for Advocate Christ because the hospital’s management team did not sufficiently answer the village’s questions on a proposed 9-story patient tower.
Advocate Christ Medical Center and Oak Lawn planning commissions had agreed last month that the village would submit questions on specific aspects of the medical center’s planned expansion. The hospital management team skipped the last PDC meeting saying it needed more time to respond to the village’s questions.
PDC chair Steve Radice said that the only reason the commission agreed to submiting questions in the first place was because Advocate Christ President Ken Lukhard was apprehensive about doing another impact study.
“To date, neither Advocate’s management team nor their recently attained legal counsel have abided by our request,” Radice said. “You have not answered all the questions, in fact, you have only answered a handful of the questions.”
Radice added during Monday’s PDC meeting that the village had submitted over 30 questions to Advocate Christ, and that only 14 had been answered, many referring to a newly commissioned impact study by the hospital.
“It’s our duty and our obligation to each and every citizen of this great community to do the best job possible in representing them,” Radice said, motioning to postpone the public hearing. “Without the requested complete answers to all our questions, it’s impossible for us to move forward to our job tonight.”
Medical center employees who live in Oak Lawn also packed village hall armed with pre-printed talking points in support of Advocate Christ’s $600 million expansion.
“I’m only guessing employees are here to address what a great hospital Christ is,” Radice said. “Advocate Christ saved my father’s life a couple of years ago. I don’t think anyone up here thinks that this hospital should just remain status quo or should not grow or expand. We’re all in agreement that it should.”
Advocate Christ’s newly obtained legal counsel, Greg Graines of DLA Piper, “made the record clear” that the medical center answered “14 of the village’s 24 questions.”
“I counted over 30,” Radice replied.
Graines explained it was confusing because some of the village's questions were “outside the scope” of the PDC’s responsibilities, in terms of the zoning process for special use, height and setback variances.
“What we were intending to do was focus on that part of the zoning process …” Graines said. “Things that were outside the scope were more campus wide and not specific to this project. We view the questions outside the scope of this hearing as part of this ongoing community relationship process.”
Plan commissioner John Eggert said he thought Advocate Christ’s answers were “well thought out, articulate and intelligent.”
“I’m sorry this process is delayed,” Eggert said, “but because there’s now reference to a study being done, as much as I don’t like to say this, I feel compelled to stay that we should now wait and see the results of the study and see what they bring to the table.”
Radice would also not allow public testimony from the Advocate Christ workers or neighbors living near the medical center, thanking them for their time.
The medical center needs village's blessing before it can obtain a certificate of need from the state to begin construction to make the April 2015 opening for the inpatient tower.
Last year, the village approved plans for an outpatient pavillion currently under construction.
“I’d say that if this board was against this expansion and it was known, I’d say bring on the testimony. We’re all on the same page that we need to get this done,” Radice said, “but you already did that on May 7 with seven doctors. None of us were surprised by all the lives you saved.”
Initially, Radice continued, plan commissioners weren’t going to ask the medical center for another impact study but hire a firm mutually agreed upon by Advocate Christ and the village to vet the most important parts of existing studies.
“In the meantime it seems like Advocate chose its own company to do the impact study,” Radice added. “I don’t know if [you] worked with the village on that.”
Oak Lawn Village Manager Larry Deetjen said that Advocate Christ has not sat down to meet with the village in over a month. Email exchanges, he said, weren't sufficient.
“You’ve seen democracy in action. Our job as stewards is to make sure that we carefully and considerately look at your application, but there has been no face-to-face communication since May 3 with Advocate Christ,” Deetjen said. “That will not get the job done.”
Asked after the meeting to describe Advocate Christ’s answers to village’s questions about the proposed expansion to date, Deetjen responded, “incomplete.”
Commissioners voted to table the public hearing and put the nine petitions on hold until the next PDC meeting on June 18. Eggert was the lone dissenting vote.