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Neighborhood Group Denies Broadway Youth Center's Special-Use Permit

By Serena Dai | January 14, 2014 8:35am
 South East Lake View Neighbors voted in January to reject a special-use permit for youth services organization Broadway Youth Center.
South East Lake View Neighbors voted in January to reject a special-use permit for youth services organization Broadway Youth Center.
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

LAKEVIEW — Broadway Youth Center's future in Lakeview took a step back Monday as a neighborhood group voted to deny a permit needed for it to operate in a local church.

But Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) suggested that after the center goes in front of the city this week, neighborhood group South East Lake View Neighbors and the social health services agency may ultimately need to work out their differences anyway.

The Zoning Board of Appeals, which will determine the center's fate Friday, is appointed by the mayor, who has prioritized expanding youth homeless services. The board, Tunney said, is "not ambivalent" to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's "outspoken" stance.

"Let's do the math," Tunney said.

The Howard Brown affiliate has been trying to get a special-use permit to operate in the Wellington United Church of Christ, 615 W. Wellington Ave., for months — a decision partly influenced by South East Lake View Neighbors, which advises Tunney as a community voice.

Broadway Youth Center has struggled to find other locations in a Lakeview or Uptown due to finances and location, said Howard Brown attorney Michelle Wetzel. A potential space at 2849 N. Clark St. needed some $100,000 in renovations to fit the center's needs, more than they can afford, Wetzel said.

But neighbors have rallied against the Wellington location, saying the community organization doesn't belong on a residential street and complaining of loitering, yelling and frequent jaywalking since it opened. The issues, residents said, have yet to be solved.

"I don't see how things will ever get better," said Anil Kashyap, a group board member, "and I don't see how your fiscal concerns will not stay constraints."

Wetzel said that since the center moved to Wellington last summer, police have recorded no crimes originating from the area. Volunteers who patrol the area do not see problems from young people leaving the center, she said.

Some residents said others were using "fear mongering rhetoric" to scare people out approving the location, and that people in the neighborhood have always called it "a great program" that they want "somewhere else."

Ultimately, 41 members voted to deny the center's location, 21 people voted to approve it and three people abstained. 

The vote was a straight "yes" or "no," without restrictions on the center's operations. The neighborhood group and Howard Brown previously discussed entering a "good neighbor agreement" that would be tied to the permit, with specifics on hours of operations and security.

But the group's board worried that it did not hold any real accountability and ended discussions.

"The good neighbor agreement is something we appreciate in spirit, but in practicality, it had no legal purpose," said Mike Demetriou, the group's president.

Tunney said he would like to return to the negotiating table to work out plan of operations with "teeth" that both Howard Brown and neighbors can agree on. Howard Brown leadership has changed quite a bit, he said, and he wants a solution that "transcends turnover."

The alderman, who's historically been supportive of youth services, said he's been told the Zoning Board of Appeals will have the power to apply restrictions that the neighbors are concerned about. 

"And I don't mean protect it from the 'fear mechanism'," he said. "People in Lakeview are not fearful."