Concerns raised on plan to expand Danish Home
by BRIAN NADIG
Several residents at the meeting of the 41st Ward Zoning Advisory Committee last month expressed concern that the proposed expansion of the Danish Home retirement facility, 5656 N. Newcastle Ave., was not scaled back from when it was initially proposed.
"We want to work with them, but the magnitude of what they want to build does not fit in with the community," a resident said on June 18.
At the board’s Jan. 16 meeting, residents expressed concern that the three-story addition would run along a public alley behind their homes, with no setback for a portion of the addition. Concerns also were raised that the overall scope of the $15 million project was too large and that the expansion would worsen the area’s parking and flooding problems.
Danish Home chief executive officer Scott Swanson said that even with the addition, 75 percent of the property would remain green space, helping to maintain the "boutique" feel of the facility.
"We’re not building lot line to lot line like some of our competition," Swanson said. He added that the project would include a storm water management system and that plans are being made for additional parking.
The proposal calls for an increase in independent living units from 28 to 38, an increase in the number of skilled nursing beds from 17 to 20, and a new entryway. The June 18 meeting was the board’s first meeting in 5 months.
The Danish Home was founded in 1891 and has been located on Newcastle since 1907, when a white farmhouse stood on the site. In 1914, a new building was constructed there, and over the years there have been additions to the three-story structure, which includes an attic.
Swanson said that the project would allow the Danish Home to meet the current trend of larger, independent living apartments in retirement communities.
Lawrence Lusk, an area resident and zoning attorney who opposes the proposal, said that an increased emphasis on independent living would change the demographics of the Danish Home, generating a need for more parking.
"This is very large," Lusk said of the expansion. He added that the neighborhood is part of a special character-zoning district that is intended to preserve the area’s low-density atmosphere.
Swanson responded that even with the changes, the facility would still be designed primarily for those in age 80 and older and that the parking demand is not expected to change significantly. "We’re not an active senior community," and most clients take advantage of the facility’s bus service, he said.
The home has about 30 parking spaces along the parkway on West Hurlbut Street, and Swanson reported that seven more spaces could be added on Hurlbut. In addition, nine additional parking spaces could be installed in a private alley along the west side of the property if needed, he said.
The home reportedly had entered into an agreement with the city in the early 1990s to allow the diagonal parking on Hurlbut to satisfy any parking requirements for the retirement home, but it was not entered into the public record. The city Department of Planning and Development is looking into formalizing that agreement.
Neighborhood residents use the parking spaces on Hurlbut, and there are no plans to stop that, Swanson said.
As the meeting was being adjourned, advisory committee member Terry Shannon said that residents have made it clear that they oppose the project.
However, none of the committee members indicated how they plan to vote on the proposal, which requires an amendment to the development ordinance governing the site’s zoning. Committee members are expected to seek additional input on proposals from the community groups that they represent.
A date has not been set for the committee’s next meeting. The committee’s votes serve as a recommendation to Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st).