Nadig Press - Wednesday March 21, 2001
Front Page

Zoning change requested for performances at arts center

By Jennifer Larsen
Staff Writer

The owner of the building that houses the Charybdis multi-arts complex, 4423 N. Milwaukee Ave., has asked that the property be rezoned from B2-1 to B4-2 to allow the group to stage performances, according to Charybdis founder Gregor Mortis.

The group, which moved from Wicker Park to its new location in September, has met with opposition from Alderman Patrick Levar (45th) but continues to gain support from the community, Mortis said.

According to Mortis, the building was advertised as B4-2 when the group first looked at the 14,000 square-foot space, but the site was down-zoned to a B2-1 before the group moved in. He said that the group was told by the building’s owner that there would be no problem reinstating the B4-2 zoning, which is written into the lease, but that Levar has not cooperated and has refused to meet with him.

”The alderman doesn’t like us,” Mortis said. “He told us that we’d have to help him if he’s to help us.”

MORTIS SAID that while his efforts to schedule meetings with Levar have been unsuccessful, many area residents have called or stopped by the facility to learn more about the group’s work. He said that he is happy with the response he has gotten from the community and that he is pleased that people chose to call and talk to him rather than believe rumors that are circulating through the neighborhood.

Mortis said that in October police raided one of Charybdis’ early performances, having received a tip that the group was staging an underground party. He said that officers who arrived soon realized that the group was breaking no laws and left.

Mortis said that Charybdis has had no other problems with police but that he believes Levar still thinks the group is throwing wild parties. He also said that, despite rumors, he is not applying for a liquor License and never had any plans to.

”We want to be about art, not about alcohol,” Mortis said. “We don’t ever want to sell alcohol.”

Mortis said that if people bring beer to a Charybdis show, he would let them bring it in, if no audience member was under age 18. He said that patrons are prohibited from bringing alcohol to any show with audience members under 18 and that those who do bring alcohol to 18-and-over shows have their identification checked before being issued a wristband so that group members can monitor drinkers.

Mortis said that while he waits on the required zoning change, his application for a public place of amusement license also is delayed. He said that until the zoning change application is processed, a license couldn’t be granted, but that the group continues to hold performances with the understanding from the community that he is going through the proper channels.

”No one’s threatening to shut us down. If we’re shut down, we’ll leave,” Mortis said. “Everyone knows we’re in the process (of getting the necessary zoning change and license) and going through the proper channels.”

Mortis said that without a public place of amusement license he is unable to collect admission from patrons but that patrons have been giving donations to help the group pay for its space and utilities, especially its natural gas bill, which has climbed to about $3,000.

LEVAR SAID that before he decides whether or not to support the zoning amendment request he will meet with the building owner, the owner’s attorney and Mortis. He said that if the request is to allow Charybdis to hold performances, then he has questions regarding whether the group has the proper license or if there is sufficient parking near the building.

”I welcome new development and business as long as they’re zoned in the right area of the ward,” Levar said, adding that there is no off-street parking at the building.

Levar said that he also wants to be sure that the space is suitable for performances and that it meets all building code requirements. He said that the space, which previously was a bowling alley, has been altered and that he wants to make sure that the work was done properly.

Levar said that he also intends to talk to representatives of the city Revenue Department to determine what licenses Charybdis needs.

”We need to meet to see what they need and talk to the neighbors,” Levar said.

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