Members of South East Lake View Neighbors (SELVN) voted 41-21 Jan. 13 not to endorse Broadway Youth Center's (BYC's) bid for a zoning variance allowing it to stay in its present location at Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ, 615 W. Wellington Ave.
Ald. Tom Tunney must now decide whether to follow SELVN's recommendation when BYC's appeal is heard Jan. 17 at a meeting of the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals.
After the vote, held at SELVN's monthly meeting at Second Unitarian Church, 656 W. Barry Ave., Tunney told members that he had not yet made a decision, but that emphasized he would like to see a written plan of operations from BYC about its role in the neighborhood. The youth center was in the process of negotiating a Good Neighbor Agreement with Tunney's office and SELVN, but SELVN officials felt that the process had no practicality or legal standing and withdrew, according to President Michael Demetriou.
Tunney also said that support for homeless youth was an important issue at City Hall, and that zoning board members are mayoral appointees. "The mayor has been very outspoken about this," Tunney said, adding that officials from the Department of Family and Social Services might be present at the meeting and speak on BYC's behalf.
But Tunney also expressed concern about turnover at the administration of Howard Brown Health Center (HBHC), which oversees BYC's operations. HBHC this month laid off six key personnel, among them BYC's associate director. Also, in December, the organization appointed Imani Rupert to replace outgoing director Lara Brooks.
HBHC General Counsel Michelle Wetzel was asked about the health facility's turnover earlier in the meeting.
"Out of 218 staff, we laid off six people. … That's something companies do. That is normal," Wetzel said.
She also added that BYC came to the neighborhood at the invitation of Wellington Avenue UCC. "Our services are offered where the youth come to survive. We spent an enormous amount of time searching for an appropriate space. We were invited to locate there and it was a good fit for us."
Last month Tunney and BYC officials said they were considering an alternative location on Clark Street, but Wetzel said that the space would require a costly build-out.
The vote followed a relatively sober meeting during which opponents to and supporters of the BYC's location reiterated their concerns.
One resident said that she had witnessed a loud altercation in front of BYC that morning. "I moved to this area because I loved the diversity of this area. It was a quiet street until BYC moved in under the cloak of darkness. After all these meetings, nothing has changed."
In contrast, another resident, who gave her first name as Liz, said, "I haven't been swayed by all this fearful rhetoric. … I've never had an altercation or seen this negative representation. I believe in BYC and I'd like to volunteer to help it succeed."
The Jan. 17 meeting is open to the public and will be held at Chicago City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle St., at 9 a.m.