Anthem Memory Care appeared before Oak Lawn’s Board of Trustees Tuesday night, the final step in the saga for approval to build a facility in a residential area. Despite overwhelming opposition from neighbors, the Board voted 4-2 to allow the Special Use permit.
The May 24th Board of Trustees meeting marked the end of a contentious public approval process, which started back on March 21st when Anthem Memory Care first presented their plans to the Planning & Development Commission. Anthem plans to build a memory care facility in the middle of a low-density residential zone on the property of Southwest Chicago Christian School. The 2.2 acre site is currently open green space and a school bus depot. The planned facility will be a two-story structure with 66 units, that could house 80 people with Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, and other memory related illnesses, and employ about 40 people.
In the face of overwhelming turnout in opposition to the development, the Planning & Development Commission tabled the item, delaying an official vote on the matter. In the weeks that followed, two unofficial meetings were held, which were attended by hundreds of people.
The proposal finally made its way back to the Planning & Development Commission again on May 16th. Residents once again turned out to show their opposition to the plan. But the Commission voted to approve Anthem’s petition, with only one Commissioner, Matt Egan, voting against.
About 8 hours before the Board meeting, Don Andersen, President of the Oak Lawn Park District Board of Commissioners, sent the Village Board a letter, expressing the Park District’s possible interest in purchasing the property from Southwest Chicago Christian School. The letter (which can be viewed below) asked the Village Board to consider tabling the agenda item to allow the Park District time to investigate acquiring the property. Andersen previously served for 20 years as a Village Planning & Development Commissioner until 2005. He spoke at the May 16th P&D meeting, stating that this development did not belong in the planned residential area.
Trustee Alex Olejniczak (District 2) made a motion to postpone the vote. Trustee Robert Streit (District 3) seconded the motion. The other four Trustees voted against postponement.
After the last Planning & Development Commission meeting, residents continued their efforts to stop the development, calling and emailing Village Trustees, urging them to vote against the petition. In the end, the campaign seemed to have little effect, as many residents were left feeling that they had been summarily dismissed by most Trustees. The only Trustees to vote against the petition were Olejniczak and Streit.
Residents left the meeting questioning whether the process was rigged. It was a familiar complaint that has been lodged by the neighborhood after the Planning and Development Commissioners appeared to disregard their concerns. Streit noted that the community believes that the “fix is in” and that the process is “rigged”. He said that people throughout the village are asking how the board can even consider putting a commercial property in a residential neighborhood.
In comments to the board, Streit urged his fellow board members and Mayor Sandra Bury to show the public that residents can have faith in their elected officials to do the right thing. He said a vote against the rezoning would prove the critics wrong that firmly believe the process is rigged. In the end, the majority of the board did nothing to discourage the critics who left upset and disappointed in their elected officials.