Downers Grove village commissioners have voted unanimously to approve a $150 million redevelopment of the Oak Trace Senior Living Community at the intersection of Fairview Avenue and 66th Street.
The move likely will trigger a legal battle between the developers and a few dozen seniors who now expect to be displaced from their homes, despite having contracts that they say allow them to stay.
The Oak Trace proposal approved Tuesday night includes construction of a four-story health care center, a new five-story residential independent-living building and 13 residential villas. Oak Trace also has proposed improvements to its existing apartment tower.
Village President Martin Tully said the plan meets all village codes.
"Last week, I walked through the criteria of a planned unit development to approval of a planned unit development amendment and indicated that if I was to see or hear anything that changed my analysis at the time, I would certainly take that into consideration," Tully said before calling the issue for a vote. "Just to close the loop on this, I have not received any information last week that would convince me of any different outcome."
Village officials said construction of the health care center will cause the demolition of about 20 garden homes that serve as independent living facilities.
Attorney Ed Manzke, who represents several of the residents who have contracts to live in their homes, said they were informed in November that their residences would be torn down to make way for the health center. He said residents were told they had six months to either move into apartments at Oak Trace or leave the community altogether.
On Wednesday, Manzke said he is disappointed the village commissioners did not consider the "human aspect" of what the approval means to his clients. He said he is preparing to file a lawsuit against LifeSpace to protect those residents.
"I feel very strongly that to protect their rights and keep the people who won't be bullied by Oak Trace into moving that a lawsuit is absolutely necessary," Manzke said. "I expect that would happen in the very near future. Unless Oak Trace can come up with another alternative that would be acceptable to my clients, litigation will be necessary to protect their rights."
LifeSpace spokeswoman Jess Grant said the company has been working with residents.
"We are disappointed to hear of potential legal action particularly since we've been working cooperatively with garden and townhouse residents for months to find solutions that meet their needs," Grant said. "We have already reached agreements with more than half of the impacted residents and we remain fully committed to doing so with the others. That has been our focus from the start and remains so today."
"We have offered impacted residents the option to transfer to residential living apartments at Oak Trace with free renovations/refurbishments, and we have also offered full refunds on entrance fees to any resident who chooses to move outside of Oak Trace," she said.
Manzke said the residents' contracts state that they must be able to live in their houses or be situated in a similar living situation. He argued that living in an apartment is not the same as living in a townhouse or garden home.
"They're similar in the way an apple and an orange are similar in that they're both fruit," Manzke said. "An apartment is a place to live just like a garden home is, but they're very, very different in just about any way you evaluate it. If they wanted to live in an apartment, they would have lived there from the start."
With Tuesday's approval, Grant said the work is set to begin this summer.