Edison-Norwood Times Review - July 19, 2001
Edgebrook Times Review - July 19, 2001
Pioneer Press online - www.pioneerlocal.com

Arts complex hits zoning hurdles

By Alan Schmidt
Staff Writer

Should an avant-garde arts complex be granted a public amusement license on the Northwest Side?

Alderman Patrick Levar, 45th Ward, said Monday he still has to talk to more residents before deciding if he should allow a zoning change to B4.

Charybdis Multi-Arts Complex moved to 4423 N. Milwaukee Ave. after leaving Wicker Park quarters in September 2000. Founder Gregor Mortis Tatro said he moved into his current quarters, a former bowling alley, because monthly rent in the Near North neighborhood was putting a strain on the budget.

Tatro describes Charybdis as “a YMCA. But instead of swim and gym, we do art, meaning whatever you do as an artist — from pottery to theater to music — everything is permitted.... Anything artists want to do, we want to provide them with a space to do it.”

He said he leased the space with the understanding that the building’s owner, First Western Property, 4431 N. Milwaukee Ave., would apply for the zoning change, which would then allow Tatro to apply for the licensing he needs.

The building, which contains a number of storefronts, is zoned B2, which does not allow Charybdis to operate. Most of Milwaukee Avenue between Addison Street and the northern city limits is zoned B4. Charybdis cannot get its license without the zoning change. Levar said he is holding his cards close to his chest until he has a precise gauge of public opinion.

Mixed opinions

Levar organized a public meeting June 27 at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave., and invited residents within a 1,500-foot radius of the complex. Charybdis issued a call for supporters on its Web site.

While some spoke in favor of the zoning change, there were also emotional calls to deny the change and shut the place down completely. Some people at the meeting distributed X-rated pictures of nude women, which they said they pulled off the Charybdis web site. Tatro said the pictures had been added by a friend who helped assemble the Internet site; the pictures have since been removed.

So far, Levar said Monday, he remains neutral. He estimated that about 65 percent of the June 27 audience opposed the zoning change.

There were complaints about events held at the complex. Tatro said they checked for ID cards when there are functions of an adult nature.

Other residents worried about parking problems. To get a license as a public place of amusement, Tatro must provide enough off-street parking for 10 percent of the building’s capacity. The arts complex’s building occupies 100 percent of its lot.

Jefferson Park Chamber President George Karzas, spoke in support of the art complex, and offered some advice to Tatro.

“You got to be sharp. Any businessman in this room will tell you: do your homework do what you need to do to get it done and there’s no surprises. So that is my challenge to you ... do things properly and I don’t think there’s going to be a problem.”

City strikes back

For the moment, however, Charybdis is shut down, closed by the city for violating its limited business license which only allowed the sale of art.

Revenue inspectors raided the complex May 20 after finding flyers advertising an event where a $10 admission was charged, said city Law Department spokeswoman Jenny Hoyle.

Although Tatro says the $10 was a suggested donation, Hoyle said the undercover agents were told in no uncertain terms that they had to pay to get in. Tatro was cited for operating a place of amusement without a license and Charybdis was shut. He was taken into custody and also charged with not having a liquor license, a juice bar license, or a food license. He could be fined a maximum $30,000 if he is found guilty.

She said undercover inspectors were tipped off about another event, held about a week later. Charybdis was charged for disregarding a cease and desist order.

Tatro said a July 14 gallery opening was raided by city revenue inspectors and he was cited for auctioneering without a license. He said he only had art on display that was to be sold at a silent auction and benefit that night at Coyle’s Tipping House, 2843 N. Halsted St. Tatro said Coyle’s was raided and the owner was forbidden to host the benefit, which was to raise money for legal assistance.

He said police went into Charybdis on July 15 after someone called in a report that a meeting was being held there. There were two people inside, Tatro said.

“This is getting out of hand,” he said. “I never in a million years would have gotten myself wedged in this. The alderman wants to destroy my life. They’re muscling us. I feel like this is an episode of ‘The Sopranos.’ ”

Levar said he is not deliberately targeting Tatro, but he wants to make sure businesses in the ward operate within the law.

“He (Tatro) needs certain city licenses to operate an establishment,” he said. “Other establishments have to A-B-C-D to operate. Why should he be any different?”

Hoyle added, “You can’t just decide, ‘I don’t have the zoning (or permits) yet but I'm just going to go ahead anyway.’ ”

Ron Calicchio, deputy director of revenue for the city, said a license is required for events even if no admission is charged. Certain safety measures must be in place, such as fire doors, for such a venue.

“All we want to do is be legit,” Tatro said. “Whatever rules we need to play by we will play by, but we’re not even being allowed to play.”

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