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This just in: an alderman decides not to cave.
Forty-second Ward alderman Brendan Reilly has helped forge an agreement that allows Children's Memorial Hospital to proceed with its plans for a new facility in Streeterville--and requires it to conduct additional studies on the safety of a proposed heliport, a demand made by neighborhood residents.
"If there's anything left on the table we weren't able to solve, I don't know what it is," Reilly said Thursday afternoon, just before the City Council's zoning committee approved the hospital's plan with Reilly's support.
Reilly said this with a tone of both relief and weariness. After months of deliberation, negotiations between the hospital and members of the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents (SOAR) finally ended with a deal Wednesday afternoon. Along the way, supporters of the hospital--most notably Mayor Daley--accused SOAR and Reilly of insensitivity to the needs of sick children for daring to express concerns about traffic congestion and the proposed rooftop helicopter plan.
Even when the deal was done, neither side was completely satisfied. Mary Kate Daly, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said its team had conducted a series of safety studies already, and the new ones will add to the cost of the $850 million project. "But in the spirit of compromise, we're going to do it," she said.
"We're happy that Children's has recognized there's still a lot of work to be done," countered SOAR's Patty Frost. But "we still believe it shouldn't get zoning approval until it's determined [the helipad] is safe."
The hospital earlier agreed to produce updated traffic management plans every year to address SOAR's concerns about congestion in the area, which includes the Mag Mile, the MCA, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Under the new deal Reilly agreed to support the zoning change the hospital needs for the project--necessary because the City Council almost never approves zoning amendments without the local alderman's consent. In return the hospital agreed to the kinds of additional studies that experts hired by SOAR had recommended (read their conclusions here and here).
The full City Council is now expected to approve the zoning changes at its February 6 meeting. Then the additional safety studies will be conducted and forwarded to the Illinois Department of Transportation, which has final say on the helipad plan. Meanwhile, the hospital expects to break ground on the project this spring.
Reilly vowed that he'll be monitoring the plan at each step. And he admitted that the whole process seems a little ass-backward. "Logic would dictate that the state would do a safety review and say, 'Yes, it's safe,' before we can move forward [with the zoning approval]," he said.