SD 124 not funding lawsuit seeking retirement center changes
BY STEVE METSCH firstname.lastname@example.org September 28, 2012 7:42PM
Sisters of Mercy care facility under construction. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 1, 2012 6:35AM
With the foundation in place and walls going up on a retirement center on Chicago’s Southwest Side, residents who oppose the project hold no delusions that it will be scrapped at this point.
But they are picking up the cost of a lawsuit, filed by Evergreen Park School District 124 against the city of Chicago and the Sisters of Mercy, which owns the land, in hopes it still can be tweaked, District 124 board member Beth Amado said Friday.
“We want to see if there’s any way the size can be reduced in any way, shape or form,” Amado said.
Residents are concerned about noise, garbage and increased traffic in the immediate area, and District 124 claims property values could fall and reduce the district’s property tax revenue, according to the lawsuit.
Southwest School is on the corner of the 99th Street and Central Park Avenue, and the complex is being built to the southwest of the school.
The school district is listed as the plaintiff in the case, Amado said, “because we have the strongest case.
“It’s 100 percent funded by residents,” Amado said. “No district funds whatsoever.”
She declined to say how much money was donated by residents. The attorney hired to handle the lawsuit, Patrick Ruberry, is not the school district’s regular attorney, Amado said. Ruberry did not return two phone calls Friday and one Thursday.
The lawsuit, filed Sept. 14, seeks a smaller footprint for the center for retired clergy. It contends the district’s due process rights were violated when the Chicago City Council approved a zoning change that cleared the way for the center.
Plans already had been reduced from the original proposal when Sisters of Mercy settled a similar lawsuit with Evergreen Park. But residents now want the buildings to be no more than two stories in height instead of the planned three. They also want 75 units instead of 110, and want the buildings “spread out across the property,” the lawsuit said.
Both District 124 and Evergreen Park have contended that the Sisters of Mercy promised in a 1954 agreement that the land would be used only for educational purposes.
“Concessions are always good, but you have to remember that it’s supposed to be used for educational purposes. This is not that,” Amado said. “It’s a facility that will require workers 24/7, three shifts of nurses, whatever staff is required to maintain it, and there will be visitors coming there, too.”
She would have preferred seeing the land used to build a dorm for nearby St. Xavier University because “then there’d just be more people walking to classes,” she said.
Sister Sheila Megley, treasurer for the Sisters of Mercy and a member of the leadership team, said opponents would like nothing built there.
“We’ve reduced the size of the footprint and the number of stories in the buildings,” she said of prior concessions. Still, she stopped short of saying the latest lawsuit was frivolous.
“I suppose it depends on your perspective,” she said. “But I think the only thing that would make them happy is if we didn’t built anything at all. In that sense, it’s probably a nuisance.”
Sisters of Mercy spokesman Bill Figel said the lawsuit represents the views of a vocal minority.
“A few people are using lawyers as offensive weapons to hold up a project the majority of the community welcomes,” he said.
The project is on schedule to be completed next summer, Megley said.
Amado said the district is not seeking compensation in its lawsuit.
“It’s about the kids,” she said.
The Sisters of Mercy originally proposed a center with 212 rooms in October 2008. Years of legal wrangling with Evergreen Park followed. District 124’s lawsuit comes more than six months after the village settlement with the Sisters of Mercy.
“We were constrained until the village settled,” Amado said.
That settlement reduced the center to 110 rooms, with both buildings being three stories and residents being limited to retired members of religious orders.