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Broadway Youth Center has zoning hearing
by Matt Simonette

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Broadway Youth Center on Jan. 17 made its case before the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals regarding a variance that would allow it to stay in its current location on Wellington Avenue.

BYC supporters filled the gallery of the City Council chambers at 121 N. LaSalle St. Many wore yellow or orange t-shirts in solidarity. Opponents to the variance were in attendance as well, but Zoning Board Chair Jonathan Swain estimated that 95 percent of the audience members supported BYC's position. About 30 of those supporters live in Lakeview.

The embattled youth center has been located in the basement of Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ, 615 W. Wellington Ave., since mid-2013.

Ald. Tom Tunney on Jan. 16 announced that he would back the variance if certain conditions were met: a 365-day restriction to the special use, effectively subjecting BYC to a trial period on one year; a Good Neighbor Agreement that specified, among other aspects, hours, services, capacity, security measures and dispute resolution; and a stipulation that said the agreement was not applicable to any other entity Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ might lease the space to.

His decision followed several meetings with South East Lake View Neighbors ( SELVN ), many of whom felt that BYC did not belong on a residential street. The organization voted 41-21 on Jan. 13 not to back the variance.

Tunney has expressed concerns about management turnover at BYC, as well as Howard Brown Health Center ( HBHC ), which oversees BYC's operations. But at the Jan. 17 hearing he said that BYC, "If it is run properly, will be an asset to the community."

He added that the facility also fit neatly into Mayor Emanuel's plan to reduce youth homelessness in the city.

Much of the contention in the hearing centered on how many of BYC's clients are coming in for medical care. Opponents suggested that the majority of them are coming in for comprehensive medical services—a blatant violation of the zoning—but HBHC General Counsel Michelle Wetzel said that health services consisted mainly of testing, and that only one RN was on staff; clients with serious illnesses are referred to HBHC. Wetzel also said that opponents were using data compiled while BYC was still at its old Belmont and Broadway location.

Wellington Avenue resident Anne Voshel described disturbances by individuals she assumed to be BYC clients. "I do not feel comfortable," Voshel said, adding, "It should be noted that the Center on Halsted, which provides similar services, is 20 minutes away."

Swain asked Voshel several times whether she knew for certain whether the disturbances were coming from BYC clients. She admitted that she did not, adding that she spoke with a BYC official who chastised her for assuming that the individuals, who were transgender, were their clients.

But Swain pressed Wetzel on the security issue as well. BYC maintains that it does not have the staff nor the money to vigilantly patrol areas outside the Center, but Swain said that Wetzel should be "open to conversations about patrols," since pedestrian traffic on the street was changing because of BYC's presence. Wetzel agreed.

Swain also rejected her statement that BYC "does not attract the youth" and instead is located where they happen to be already.

"I'm not so naÃŻve as to think that this place doesn't have a reach beyond Lakeview," Swain said.

Swain said that the Board would likely announce its decision over the variance the morning of Jan. 21.

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