Lerner Times - Thursday July 5, 2001
Arts complex painted with charges at meeting
Ald. Levar wants to hear from nearby residents
By Mike Gunderson
The debate about whether to rezone a building housing the Charybdis Multi-Arts Complex, 4423 N. Milwaukee Ave., drew more than 200 people to a room that was designed to hold 103.
But Ald. Pat Levar (45th) did not find a consensus for or against the rezoning and will take the “next couple weeks” to poll some nearby residents and “do some more research” into the issue.
Hundreds attended the meeting, held Wednesday, June 27, at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., despite receiving less than a week’s notice. Although the entire building, from 4415 to 4431 N. Milwaukee Ave., is seeking a zoning change, the question of Charybdis’ place in the neighborhood ruled the discussion.
Charybdis was raided by city revenue inspectors and police May 20 and again May 31. Each time, Charybdis was cited for failure to have a city public-place-of-amusement license required to host events involving large groups of people or charging entrance fees.
The license can’t be applied for and purchased unless the building’s zoning is changed to B4, from the current B2.
Charybdis founder Gregor Mortis, who moved the center from Wicker Park into its current home in September, said he did not expect the zoning upgrade to B4 would be a problem.
With some praising the art center as a “real jewel” for the area and others decrying Charybdis as a purveyor of pornography, the discussion lasted four hours, and Levar decided it would not be “fair to the community” if he made a decision then.
The building is the only property along Milwaukee Avenue from Addison Street north to the city limits that is zoned B2-1. Every other property is zoned at least B4, which is what the building owners are seeking, said zoning attorney John Pikarski.
The building owners, Jim Pappas, Paul Tsakiris and John Trumbolovic, have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the building’s restoration and should be given a zoning that allows their building to house the same types of businesses the rest of the strip of Milwaukee Avenue buildings can house, Pikarski said. Other tenants in the building include an adult video shop and a liquor store.
”My clients, in order to maximize their use for this particular site, must be able to at least match what’s around them,” he said. “They are not asking for something that’s unusual.”
As the discussion shifted away from the building’s zoning and toward Charybdis, members of the Portage Park Neighborhood Association, the Wilson Avenue Community Association and the Jefferson Park Chamber of Commerce spoke on the art center’s behalf.
Levar then detailed the city Department of Revenue’s investigation of the art center. The department began investigating Charybdis after a complaint was filed with the mayor’s office, but there is no indication of who filed that complaint. Charybdis is scheduled to appear in court to answer for operating without a license July 31.
Pornography allegations then surfaced, as some residents pointed to Charybdis’ Web site, which displayed photographs of nude women and made adult references. The materials had been printed off the Internet, and photocopies of them were circulated throughout the meeting.
The materials have been removed and were not easily accessible through the site before, Mortis said. He said he regrets the pictures could be found at all and that Charybdis’ opponents used them as ammunition to go on a “witch hunt” of the group.
Charybdis has never had any kind of pornographic event in the community and does not plan to, Mortis said. Charybdis members, such as Karl Sacksteder, also defended the center.
”I would not be involved with this organization if I thought there was any chance that children would be exposed to porn,” said Sacksteder, 50, of East Rogers Park. “Your kids are safe at Charybdis. They’re safer there than they are on the street.”
Levar said the question of Charybdis and the question of whether or not to rezone the building are linked, because Charybdis needs the zoning change to move forward and get its proper licenses. Mortis and Pikarski each said Charybdis and events held there shouldn’t be debated until it applies for its licenses, when the decision for or against only affects the arts center, not the entire building.
Pikarski said he will meet with Levar sometime in early July and restate the building’s case for rezoning while Levar makes his decision. Levar said he might delay a decision until the July 31 court date has passed and Charybdis’ legal issues have been addressed.