LAKEVIEW — After months of conflict in the neighborhood, a city board unanimously approved Broadway Youth Center's special-use permit to operate in a church on Wellington Avenue.
The social and health services agency, a Howard Brown Health Center affiliate, primarily serves at-risk LGBT youth. It's been operating out of the Wellington United Church of Christ, 615 W. Wellington Ave., since the summer, but it needed a special-use permit.
The Zoning Board of Appeals's 4-0 decision to grant the permit was largely expected by both supporters of the location and those opposed to it after Friday's hearing.
Board members were highly critical of the opposition, and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) voiced support for the location, leaving Howard Brown feeling "hopeful" and residents from neighborhood group South East Lake View Neighbors feeling "not good."
The community group overwhelming voted against the center's location, saying the usage was inappropriate on a residential street due to the loitering and crime it attracted.
A legion of Broadway Youth Center supporters who attended Friday's hearing don't live on the street, and the activism turned a neighborhood issue into a political one, said John Rafkin, vice president of South East Lake View Neighbors.
"We support the Broadway Youth Center, just not in this location," he said after the Friday meeting.
But Tunney, voicing support for the location last week, said the center's neighborhood impact would not be as "dramatic" as some neighbors believed.
"This is an important resource for the city and for the community," he said. "Lakeview has been historically the epicenter for LGBT youth. I think it's appropriate that it stays."
Howard Brown general counsel Michelle Wetzel has said that the organization searched for a year for an alternate building that would fit its location, price and space needs but couldn't find one. The church works, and police have not reported crime at the location since it opened, she said.
The special-use permit approval hinges on a couple details: The permit will expire at the end of March 2015, and contact information and hours of operation must be posted.
Tunney had encouraged a good neighbor agreement as part of the approval, but it's not tied to the permit by the Zoning Board. South East Lake View Neighbors previously rejected the agreement for not being enforceable enough. Wetzel said Howard Brown is willing to sign one as part of an agreement between Tunney, neighbors and Broadway Youth Center.
Though the zoning board itself would not enforce a good neighbor agreement, the permit's expiration date means that new issues in the next year could impact a renewal, said Patrick Murphey, staff with the zoning board of appeals.
In that vein, any violation of the permit — such as not posting hours or contact info — would not mean an immediate revocation but could be raised next April.
"That may all come up if they choose to reapply next year," Murphey said.
Despite the group's opposition to the center, Wetzel said the organization still wishes to have a working relationship with the South East Lake View Neighbors.
Correction: A previous version stated that the good neighbor agreement is tied to the special use permit. It is not technically enforced by the Zoning Board of Appeals, but violation of a written agreement between Howard Brown, neighbors and Tunney could impact the board's renewal decision next year.