OLD TOWN — A renowned Lincoln Park homeless agency is looking to expand to Old Town in a long-vacant location across from the CTA Sedgwick station.
Lincoln Park Community Services made its case in a public meeting Wednesday that it's planning to buy the long-vacant former Culinablu Living Kitchens location at 1521 N. Sedgwick St., familiar to CTA Brown Line and Evanston Express commuters.
"We want to replicate what we've done in Lincoln Park and have that exist in Old Town," said Lydia Murray, member of the homeless shelter board.
Architect Jack Kelley said they plan to raze the two-story building on the Sedgwick side of the lot and maintain the five-story building in the back, with a new five-story addition facing Sedgwick and a courtyard in the U-shaped recess between. Agency offices would be concentrated in the back, with living quarters in the front for 20 permanent residents and 48 others as they make the transition to homes of their own.
The Old Town Merchants and Residents Association played host to Wednesday's meeting, held at the Catherine Cook School gymnasium at 226 W. Schiller St. and with dozens of generally receptive local residents in attendance.
Murray called Lincoln Park Community Services "the leader in Chicago for eradicating homelessness," with a "comprehensive" approach to the problem including treatment and employment services.
It was created 32 years ago in an alliance of four Lincoln Park churches — Church of Our Saviour, St. Clement, St. Pauls and Lincoln Park Presbyterian — and is now housed in the basement of the Presbyterian church at 600 W. Fullerton Parkway.
"We are much more than a shelter," Executive Director Dan Hula said. "Homelessness requires a community response [and] the community is part of the solution.
"We want to be a benefit to our community," he added.
The community meeting was necessary because the organization needs not just a special-use permit through the Zoning Board of Appeals to open the new location, but also City Council approval through the Zoning Committee as a "transit-oriented development" across from the CTA station. Because of their proximity to public transportation, transit-oriented developments are allowed to have far fewer parking spaces than normally required of projects of their size.
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) signaled his approval by telling those in attendance he's on the board of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Robin Hammond, spokeswoman for the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce, called the agency a "wonderful organization" and said that its 1,500 volunteers were a boon to local businesses. She said it would be "a valuable addition to the Old Town neighborhood."
Murray said she expected it to be "an anchor in this community."
Residents actually applauded at the end of the hourlong meeting.
Thomas Moore, the organization's attorney, said they hoped to get before the Zoning Board of Appeals in August or September, with the transit-oriented-development measure introduced to the City Council in September. Murray said the organization was looking to close on the property by the end of the year, as a recent state grant has to be spent in 2017, with groundbreaking early next year and completion of the project a year from that.
Plans are for this to be an expansion of Lincoln Park Community Services with offices moving to the new site, but both Murray and Hula said it could possibly turn out to be a shift of the agency from Lincoln Park to Old Town.
"It's too early to say what we can and can't do," Hula said.