Timmy Knudsen, an openly gay attorney who was named one of Windy City Times' 30 Under 30 in 2019, was recently named Chair of the city's Zoning Board of Appeals.
Knudsen, a partner with the firm Croke Fairchild Morgan & Beres, had already been an alternate Zoning Board member and stepped into the post after the September resignation of Chair Farzin Parang. The board is primarily responsible for approving zoning variances requested by city businesses and residents.
"They don't want the chair to be a zoning attorney, because there can be so many conflicts," Knudsen said shortly after his first meeting in his new role. "I work with tech start-ups, so it was good to have the year in the background to see how the board functionsit was a very fast turnaround."
All but one member of the new board, he noted, has been appointed by Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
"I see it as a perfect time to manage the board a little differently and get out of some habits that the board has fallen into," Knudsen said, admitting that he had some concrete ideas of how the board should function going forward.
"I'd like to see this kind of archaic board come into the modern world and leave the status quo of how the Board's been running. I'd like to think that, this week, I started a 'head's-up' to them to indicate that, 'Hey, I get that there are ways that this has been going, and it's not going to go that way anymore."
Among the changes he'd like to see is more efficiency. Knudsen said that previous incarnations of the board heard cases at a more leisurely pace. But discussions regarding dispensary applications have absorbed a tremendous amount of time in recent months, often leading to discussions best left outside the Board's purview. Those meetings have gone late into the evening, or even the early morning. As such, for example, Knudsen found himself using the "mute" button when participants began to ramble during his first meeting.
"I told the attorneys they were done," he recalled. "I tried to cut out the whole 'tell-the-applicant's-whole-life-story' thing. We're quasi-judicial, so we don't have to treat this thing like a judicial hearing."
Another priority for Knudsen is making sure that each neighborhood's concerns are treated equally.
"In the past, if you were to look at the agendas, a lot of time has been spent on variation issues in Lincoln Park and Lakeview," he said. "My goal is to make sure that those receive no more and no less attention and thought from the Board than anything happening on the Southwest Side or the South Side."
Knudsen has long had an interest in politics and first began volunteering for campaigns when he was 19, and served as a member of Lightfoot's campaign's finance committee. He also has done a great deal of pro bono work assisting persons with asylum issues, many of them members of the LGBTQ community.
"I'm excited to serve in this role," Knudsen said. "I think it's a big responsibility. I hope and plan to bring a fair and equitable voice to it all. A lot of people coming before us are experiencing government directly for the first time, and I view it as my role to make sure that [the experience] is a good one."
Windy City Times staff