Concerns and Questions from Uptown Church
Response to the Zoning Board of Appeals Decision
February 20, 2024
Following the Zoning Board of Appeal’s (ZBA) decision to not approve a special use permit for the establishment of a non-congregate shelter for men in the building we currently lease space, we express deep sadness and disappointment. This was not our desired outcome. Our church was looking and asking for a way forward that accommodated the expansion of Cornerstone Community Outreach’s (CCO) mission while also preserving ours and allowing our service in this neighborhood to continue as well. This had not been accomplished yet. Additional time was needed and is still needed now. Similar projects, like the Margarita Inn in Evanston (which was referenced by CCO’s expert at their hearing), required 15 months of intense community engagement and discussion to work out details, address concerns, and complete their zoning process. In contrast, this project has only had 2 months to do the same important work. This is why we asked for a continuance at the hearing: to secure more time to ensure the stability and flourishing of both of our missions going forward.
The week of February 5th, we informed CCO of our intention to request a continuance. They made it known to us that a continuance would be too costly for them given the timelines, deadlines, and process they were working within. We were clear that not enough details were worked out and there were many outstanding issues still unaddressed that could bring deep harm to our spiritual community, including potential displacement or even closure.
From our final conversations leading up to the ZBA hearing, it was our understanding that CCO intended to oppose any continuance. Instead, they wanted the opportunity to make their case for a special use permit that same day. Consistent with their wishes, the continuance was denied and CCO was given the opportunity to be heard. Absent a continuance, Uptown Church was forced to proceed with the hearing, which involved sharing the aforementioned assessment: that not enough details were worked out and there were many outstanding issues still unaddressed that could bring deep harm to our spiritual community, including potential displacement or even closure. We intentionally spoke only on our own behalf. We did not join with the opinions or arguments made by any of the other objectors.
We are not sure where this leaves this project, but we have not closed the door on finding a way forward together. We continue to desire both the missions of CCO and Uptown Church to impact and serve this neighborhood. Uptown would be worse off if either of us ceased to exist. We recognize that there are some who believe that our church should not have advocated for itself and should have let CCO expand its services no matter the cost to us. We respectfully disagree.
We have been clear from the very beginning that our church is willing to make sacrifices for the good of this project. But this project wasn’t just asking us to make sacrifices; it was demanding that we put ourselves at great risk with limited assurances, protections, or guaranteed help. Again, more time was needed to find a way forward. Even if a mutually discerned path had emerged, we would have still needed additional time to bring that reality forward in a healthy manner that was both sensitive and responsive to the needs of our spiritual community.
We are saddened and disappointed with how things unfolded this weekend. Our preferred outcome was for a continuance to be granted. We felt it was in the best interests of the project and would have ensured that sufficient time was available to form a more robust, comprehensive plan for the good of all parties involved.
The Uptown Church Leadership Team
Issues Around Shared Space in the Building - January 31, 2024
In the January 31, 2024 meeting between CCO and our church's leadership team, we were given details of how our church would need to share our entrance, exit, and lobby space with the residents of the men's shelter under the current plan. We believe this would not be asked of a preschool, an elementary school, a high school, or a senior's center; and we serve all the aforementioned populations. Operationally, we recognized there would be tension between the ways the shelter proposed to create a secure and controlled interior space and the way we try to create a warm and inviting space for visitors and our church family. Our leadership team discerned that sharing interior space with the shelter was both an unreasonable and incompatible ask of our church. We shared with CCO after that meeting that our church would be open to both our entities inhabiting separate parts of the building, but not sharing common space inside of the building. To move forward in this project together, we requested separate and secure ADA accessible entrance and exits points be established for both the church and the shelter.
Sent to Cornerstone Community Outreach and Alderwoman Clay’s Office on January 13, 2024
As indicated in our previous prepared statement that was shared at the community meeting on January 8th, Uptown Church deeply appreciates the efforts of Cornerstone Community Outreach and Alderwoman Clay to address housing insecurity in our city. Uptown Church shares the same desire to expand shelter space in our ward.
Uptown Church is fully committed to doing everything in its power to help the vision of this proposed project succeed, as long as the path forward allows our church’s mission and vision to flourish and succeed as well. We want to see the missional impacts and reaches of both CCO and Uptown Church grow and expand simultaneously. To that end, we understand that sacrifices may need to be made, and we are willing to engage in conversations with CCO regarding potential rent abatements, rent reductions, or other monetary incentives designed to ameliorate certain inconveniences required to move the project forward.
But, based upon the information that has been shared up to this point, Uptown Church has some concerns that the proposed project will have a deep, negative impact on the operations of our spiritual community that go beyond negotiable inconveniences. These types of potential harms cannot be adequately addressed with rent abatements, rent reductions, or other monetary incentives. For example:
Uptown Church wants to support the proposed project, but we have concerns that our ADA accessibility might be impacted, altered, or lost. To put this concern to rest, we would need concrete guarantees and detailed plans that ensure our ADA accessibility is never compromised for as long as we make our home in the building, even during periods of construction. To remove ADA accessibility from Uptown Church could make it illegal for us to use our leased space as a church.
Special Use Permit
Uptown Church wants to support the proposed project, but we have concerns that our special use permit might come into question. To put this concern to rest, we would need absolute assurance from the city of Chicago and the Zoning Board of Appeals (in writing) that any/all of the construction or proposed and actual changes to the building will not violate or compromise our current special use permit in any way.
Elevator Built in our Space
Uptown Church wants to support the proposed project, but we have concerns about an elevator being built in our leased space. We are being advised that this could violate our current special use permit. Even if the advice is somehow mistaken, locating the elevator in our sanctuary compromises the layout and use of the space far too negatively for us. Based upon the layout of the room, the size of the space, and the proposed location of the elevator, the end result is too intrusive and alters the overall use and functionality of the auditorium to far too great an extent.
Reduction in Square Footage and Occupancy Capacity
Uptown Church wants to support the proposed project, but we have concerns it is going to noticeably reduce our square footage, thereby considerably affecting the number of people that can gather for worship in our space. We are already creatively using every square inch of our facility to accommodate people and meet needs. To diminish our overall capacity weakens our mission and impact in this community. The proposed plan takes away too much vital and central square footage from our sanctuary.
Noise and Sound
Uptown Church wants to support the proposed project, but we have concerns as we anticipate the amount of increased sound and noise disruption that will result from an elevator operating directly in our leased space or right next to it. To put this concern to rest, we would need to see detailed plans/solutions that can guarantee a level of sound mitigation that would allow our church to continue to engage in sacred, spiritual practices without increasing the level of noise and sound disruptions we are already accommodating in a mixed-use building.
Based upon the information we have, the above five areas are the ones of greatest concern to us at the moment. Other concerns may arise as more information about the project becomes available.
One outstanding concern (that doesn’t rise to the same level as the others) that we would like to continue conversation around is the issue of pedestrian safety and traffic on Clifton. Currently, conditions on Clifton are not safe enough for people who use the sidewalks around our facility as cars and trucks are regularly coming up onto the sidewalks. The sidewalks are being used as long-term parking, temporary parking, and loading zones for many vehicles. The street is also regularly being blocked by delivery trucks, emergency vehicles, garbage trucks, and much more. The needs of the shelter are one of the main contributors to this unsafe dynamic on Clifton. We anticipate this project will only increase the current dangers unless appropriate measures are put into place to restore free and clear access to sidewalks and restore flow of traffic to Clifton. Uptown Church would like to talk through how CCO and the city of Chicago can help adequately address this problem.
Again, Uptown Church is supportive of the idea to expand shelter access in our building and area. Our proximity to CCO has created many opportunities for people experiencing housing insecurity to find a spiritual home with us during their transitional season. We anticipate that number will only continue to grow if this project is able to move forward. We welcome and desire this potential outcome. But the project must accommodate and mutually benefit the needs of CCO and Uptown Church together for this to take place. This needs to be a “both/and” – not an “either/or.”
Again, Uptown Church is more than willing to work through a variety of issues that could bring inconveniences our way, especially for a good and noble endeavor such as this. But we don’t want harm to come to the mission vitality of Uptown Church. We don’t want Uptown Church to lose the functionality of its space. And we don’t want Uptown Church to be displaced or lose legal use of its space.
The Uptown Church Leadership Team
Read at the community meeting on January 8, 2024 at Wilson Abbey
My name is________________________, and I serve on the leadership team of Uptown Church. I am reading a prepared statement on behalf of Uptown Church.
Uptown Church appreciates the efforts of Alderwoman Clay’s office and Cornerstone Community Outreach to seek ways to address housing insecurity in our city. Uptown Church shares their desire to expand access to housing in our community.
Unfortunately, the Cornerstone Proposal for 1140 W. Wilson presents some significant challenges to Uptown Church. These challenges include:
1. Uptown Church has been advised that the proposed elevator and modifications to our Sunday morning ADA access could jeopardize our ability to continue meeting legally as a church in our leased space; and
2. Uptown Church still does not have enough information to accurately evaluate the impact of the proposal on our continued use of our leased space. For example:
a. Where will the elevator be located? It is currently designed to be built in our sanctuary. We’ve been told that CCO is still exploring different options.
b. How large will the finished footprint of the elevator be? The proposal says 81 sq. ft., but we’ve been advised that the landing will need to be larger than that.
c. How long will construction take and will Uptown Church be able to meet effectively during the construction period? The proposal is 3 months, but we’ve been advised to expect much longer.
d. Will the normal operation of the elevator impact Uptown Church’s ability to worship on a Sunday? What other changes to the building, specifically our space, will be required by the Department of Buildings?
Uptown Church respects the mission that Cornerstone feels called to engage in the Uptown Community, but we also need to be able to use our leased space to fulfill the mission that Uptown Church is called to. We are a congregation that reflects the diversity and richness of the Uptown Community, which includes attendees who have experienced or are currently experiencing housing insecurity. From our beginning Uptown Church has sought to be an active participant in the life of the Uptown Community as evidenced by our involvement in Uptown Art Week, our biannual Fall Festival, and offering our facility for local beat meetings and other community needs.
Uptown Church understands that circumstances have dictated that this proposal move quickly, but we respectfully ask that before any final decisions are made that the Alderwoman’s Office and Cornerstone provide more specific information on how this project will affect Uptown Church and our ability to continue to serve the Uptown Community.
This statement was prepared and written before the community meeting.
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