Public Watchdog.org

PADS Shelter Special Use Permit To Be Discussed Tonight

08.25.08

In what appears to be an unprecedented move, the City of Park Ridge’s Planning & Zoning Commission will meet tonight in Niles(!) to take up the matter of text amendments to the City’s zoning ordinance in order to permit and regulate temporary homeless shelters. 

The meeting will be held at 7:00 p.m. at Emerson Middle School, 8101 N. Cumberland Avenue, Niles, Illinois, presumably in anticipation of an overflow crowd of residents wanting to be heard on this matter, which has generated a lot of heat and light on how this community views its obligations toward the homeless – not just the homeless with ties to Park Ridge, but the homeless from other communities as well.

Although PADS supporters have argued that churches like St. Paul of the Cross, whose school is the planned site for the PADS shelter each Sunday night from October through April, should not have to comply with City ordinances for such a shelter because it purports to be a religious “ministry,” the City Council disagreed – based on two recent local federal court cases – and it referred the matter to Planning & Zoning to come up with appropriate standards for permitting such a “special use” of those premises. 

One of the issues debated by aldermen and residents alike is whether PADS needs to be a co-applicant with St. Paul.  In one of those recent court cases involving a shelter in Elgin, the court noted that PADS was not only a co-applicant, it was the applicant.  The Elgin version of a special use permit limited PADS “clients” from staying at the shelter more than three days unless they could demonstrate that they had a “connection” to Elgin, based on any one of four criteria:

  • a mailing address in Elgin within past two years;
  • established employment in Elgin;
  • residence in Elgin of the person’s immediate family; or
  • current attendance in an Elgin school by the person or the person’s child.

According to many St. Paul parishioners, church leadership has disregarded their legitimate safety and health concerns about running a PADS shelter in the school’s gymnasium every Sunday night.  Consequently, they are viewing the City Council as their last resort for making sure that the interests of their children and of the community as a whole are respected and protected at least as much as the interests of PADS and the homeless. 

Here’s hoping that the City does its job in that respect, and that tonight’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting is a productive first step in a process that properly recognizes the fundamental principle of separation of church and state.  Because contrary to what PADS shelter proponents contend, this is every bit as much of a civic matter as it is a religious ministry.

We encourage everyone with an interest in this important issue to attend tonight’s meeting so that the Planning & Zoning Commission can consider the views of the broadest cross-section of our community in making its recommendations to the City Council.

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