SD 124 sues, seeking changes to Sisters of Mercy retirement center
BY STEVE METSCH firstname.lastname@example.org September 27, 2012 10:56PM
Sisters of Mercy care facility under construction. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 29, 2012 6:57AM
Already downsized in the settlement of a lawsuit filed by Evergreen Park, a planned retirement center on Chicago’s Southwest Side would undergo further changes if Evergreen Park School District 124 gets its way.
District 124 is suing the city of Chicago and the Sisters of Mercy, which owns the land, to invalidate a zoning change that cleared the way for the center, which is under construction near 99th Street and Central Park Avenue.
In its lawsuit, filed Sept. 14 in Cook County Circuit Court, District 124 contends that its due process rights were violated when the zoning change was approved — in part because aldermen “relied solely” on the findings and recommendations of the Chicago Plan Commission and a committee and that testimony offered by the plan’s opponents was not considered in a report prepared for the plan commission.
Like the village, the school district also charges that the center would violate a 1954 agreement with Evergreen Park in which the Sisters of Mercy agreed to use the property only for an educational purpose.
That agreement also allowed Chicago to annex the site.
In October 2008, the Sisters of Mercy proposed a center with 212 rooms, including a five-story, independent-living building and a four-story, assisted-living building.
After a lengthy legal dispute, the Evergreen Park Village Board in February approved a settlement with the Sisters of Mercy that reduced the center to 110 rooms, with both buildings being three stories and residents being limited to retired members of religious orders.
District 124 wants the buildings to be no higher than 38 feet, that no part of a building more than two stories be within 500 feet of single-family homes, the buildings to be spread out and that there be no more than 75 rooms.
The district also claims the retirement center will cause area property values to fall, costing the district property tax revenue.
Over the years, the Sisters of Mercy divested ownership of most of the site for development of St. Xavier University, Brother Rice High School and Mother McAuley High School, the lawsuit says. But the order retained nearly 14 acres between Mother McAuley and District 124’s Southwest School.
If the retirement center is built, Southwest School would suffer from increased traffic, reduced air quality and greater noise levels in addition to a lowering of the property value, according to the District 124 lawsuit. It says there also would be issues with parking, safety and lighting.
Sisters of Mercy attorney Jack George questioned why the school district filed the lawsuit, noting that construction has begun and that 1954 educational-only promise “was heard and disposed of” during the order’s legal dispute with the village. The project is “going forward,” he said.
“There’s no question there’s a need for it, and everyone seems to be happy about it,” George said.
Patrick Ruberry, the attorney representing District 124, could not be reached for comment.