ELMHURST – Whatever the city’s Development, Planning and Zoning committee decides to recommend for the Elmhurst Extended Care Center expansion, it’s going to make someone deeply unhappy.
The facility at 200 Lake St. is seeking to expand toward Fremont Avenue, a tree-lined street packed with homes of various sizes, much like any other residential neighborhood in Elmhurst. The proposal would add vehicle access to the center property from Fremont Avenue, a significant building addition toward Fremont, and a parking lot, among other elements.
Opposition to the proposal from neighbors has been significant, with signs in a number of front yards along the street displaying “Say no to EEC” signs.
During the committee’s meeting Monday night at City Hall, nine residents spoke against with project, while the center’s owner and attorney both spoke in favor of it. While all the parties spoke in measured, respectful tones, it was clear from the intensity of their words that there are very strong and probably irreconcilable feelings on both sides.
John McNichols, a Fremont Avenue resident whose home directly abuts the area of the proposed new construction, described how a row of second-story windows would be looking directly into his backyard.
“I don’t oppose the use of the [existing] building,” McNichols said. “I don’t oppose what happens inside. I oppose the harmful effects that placing this expansion onto East Fremont Avenue will have on my property and my neighbors’ property, as well as the city of Elmhurst at large.”
Scott Stefek said he’s lived on Fremont Avenue for 56 years. He described the traffic and parking problem already created at times by an apartment building that’s located about six doors down from where the expansion would sit on Fremont.
“When the [apartment building’s] visitor lot fills up with tenants, the visitors park out on Fremont, and so, some of the people park illegally in the cul-de-sac because that’s considered a fire lane, and there’s no parking on the north side of Fremont, but people just park wherever they feel like,” Stefek said. “So this is one of the problems that’s on the end there, but this could spill over if [the center] is expanded, it’s a similar situation.”
Resident Ken Smallwood, who is a commercial real estate developer, talked about a point of contention raised between the center and its neighbors at previous hearings and commission meetings, the matter of whether the expansion would harm property values.
“For [the center] to say the loss in value is speculative is simply inaccurate and misleading,” he said. “[It would case a] real, tangible and large loss on our biggest investment.”
The center’s perspective
When Love Dave, the owner and administrator of the Elmhurst Extended Care Center, took his turn to speak, he pushed back against the idea that his business represented a simple cash grab insensitive to the needs of neighbors.
“We’re just trying to be advocates for the residents that live with our facility,” he said. “They’re also citizens of Elmhurst and surrounding suburbs. It’s not just a moneymaking scheme as some have addressed it, it’s truly to enhance the residents’ lives that actually live there.”
He pointed out that many of the center’s residents are in rooms with three or four beds.
“If anybody comes and visits, they can see kind of how we’re living now. We make it work and we squeeze people in, but it’d be nice to be able to give them their own private rooms, their own private bathrooms, and things of that nature.”
The center’s attorney, Christina Morrison, gave a statement that talked about legal protections for the elderly and disabled.
“We submit to the city that federal courts have stated that people who live at [the center] are protected under the law, and to deny [the center]’s expansion may be considered discriminatory,” she said.
Working toward a recommendation
In the discussion that followed the comments from the public, Committee Chairman Scott Levin and aldermen Mark Mulliner and Michael Honquest considered which aspects of the standards for a conditional use permit were at issue, so that they could focus on the points of contention to make a decision.
“The conditional uses for that area are many,” Levin said. “There are elderly senior homesharing facilities, retirement communities, cultural institutions, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, fire stations, churches, religious buildings, all kinds of things. So when you look at this, I recognize that it is a conditional use, and those are the standards we have to look at.”
Levin indicated that the committee’s recommendation would likely revealed at its next meeting in two weeks, with a vote of the full City Council likely coming in May.
“This is probably one of the more difficult issues,” Levin said, acknowledging the competing interests the committee needs to consider. “I want both the neighbors and applicant to understand that we take this very seriously, we understand the roles and concerns of each party.”
The proposed expansion has already garnered a recommendation against approval from the city’s appointed Zoning and Planning Commission, which came out against the project in a 5-2 vote March 10.