Will The City Council Start Playing PADS Politics Tonight?


Tonight at Maine East High School (Dempster and Potter, 7:00 p.m.), the Park Ridge City Council will meet as a Committee of the Whole to discuss the text amendment to the city’s zoning code recommended by the City’s Planning & Zoning (“P&Z”) Commission, by a 7-2 vote, on September 8th.  That recommended amendment will permit homeless shelters in Park Ridge but prevent them from being located within 500 feet of any day care, nursery or grammar school. 

The Park Ridge Ministerial Association (“PRMA”) and the supporters of the “PADS” brand of homeless shelter they want to bring to Park Ridge are opposed to any governmental oversight, but the 500-foot restriction has them even more agitated – because the PADS franchise depends on free space and free labor provided by local churches, often in their parochial schools. 

The PRMA and the pro-PADS contingent, however, may have acquired a powerful ally in City Attorney Everett “Buzz” Hill, who looks like he is trying to set the table for Mayor Howard “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark’s Alderpuppets on the City Council to nix that 500 foot restriction by opining that the restriction might not be legally enforceable.

Hill, who said nothing about the legality or enforceability of the 500-foot requirement when he sat through the P&Z meeting at which it was discussed and approved or during the three weeks following its recommendation, offered his opinion via e-mail [pdf] this past Saturday in response to a request by Alderpuppet Don Bach (3rd Ward).  Hill concludes – without referencing any court decision or other legal authority in support of that conclusion – that “the practical effect of the [500-foot] rule will be to keep sleeping shelters out of PR altogether” and that “the courts will find this to be an illegal zoning restriction.”

That sure sounds to us a lot like Fr. Carl Morello’s criticism that the 500-foot limit, “along with all the other proposed recommendations would make it difficult, if not impossible, to have this ministry in Park Ridge,” doesn’t it?  Must just be a coincidence, huh?

Besides lacking any legal authority, Hill’s conclusion ignores the fact that the 500-foot restriction would appear to permit a PADS shelter in as many as 7 local churches which don’t have schools and are not within 500 feet of one.  And it would permit shelters in a variety of other buildings around town, although those buildings might need to be retrofitted with certain features to meet city code – just as the basement of St. Mary’s Episcopal was going to need retrofitting when it was announced as the PRMA’s original PADS shelter site back in January.

That Hill would come up with such a conclusion is not surprising.  He knows that Frimark is strongly in favor of the PADS shelter, and that Frimark is the political godfather of at least four of the Alderpuppets who will be deciding the final wording of the amendment: Jim Allegretti (on whom Frimark bestowed his vacated aldermanic seat without having the decency or the integrity to advise the then-sitting Council consenting to Allegretti’s appointment that Allegretti had contributed to Frimark’s campaign fund), Don Bach, Tom Carey and Robert Ryan. 

Hill also knows that Bach and Ryan are already in favor of PADS shelter; DiPietro is unlikely to have the spine to defy both Frimark and the PRMA; and the mere suggestion of a lawsuit is enough to send Allegretti into full Chicken Little “the sky is falling” mode.  So even a half-baked and legally unsupported opinion is likely to provide whatever legal cover may be needed to ensure at least the four Council votes necessary to deep six the 500 foot rule – and choose the comfort of the non-resident PADS-approved homeless over the safety of our local school children. 

In addition to the safety of children, let’s not forget that there are two other important standards identified in Table 1 of Section 4.8.E of the Park Ridge Zoning Ordinance, which are supposed to be considered for any zoning ordinance text amendment:

“The extent to which the proposed amendment promotes the public health safety, comfort, convenience and general welfare of the City.”


“That the proposed amendment will benefit the residents of the City as a whole, and not just the applicant, property owner(s), neighbors of any property under consideration, or other special interest groups, and the extent to which the proposed use would be in the public interest and would not serve solely the interest of the applicant.”
How does a PADS shelter do anything more than serve the narrow religious interest of the PRMA leadership and the PADS supporters?  If these factors truly matter, there should be a referendum in April to determine how voters from the entire community feel about this important civic issue.
Meanwhile, we encourage you to show up tonight at Maine East and watch Buzz and the Alderpuppets tap dance under the watchful eye of Mayor “Let’s Make A Deal” Frimark and the PRMA – while trying to make the average voter and taxpayer think that the dance is really for them.  

UPDATE (9/30/08
Last night’s City Council COW (Committee of the Whole) meeting was about as anticlimactic as a three and one-half hour meeting – without any break! – can be. 

It started with introductions by Acting Community Preservation and Development Director Carrie Davis and City Attorney Everett “Buzz” Hill, leaving to meeting chair and Park Ridge Mayor Howard Frimark the more mundane tasks of reading the names of people wishing to address the Council, rapping his gavel to quell the occasional outburst, and loosely enforcing the 4-minute speaking limit.  And it ended with the Council adjourning – without any aldermanic discussion of these issues – immediately following the conclusion of the public comments.

The main focus of most of the citizen comments from both the proposed text amendment supporters and its white-shirted opponents was the restriction on homeless shelters within 500 feet of any nursery or elementary school.  As the meeting went on it became increasingly clear that this is not a homeless shelter issue but a PADS homeless shelter issue – because the 500-foot restriction impacts the PADS franchise model more than it would other homeless shelters not based on the free use of churches and parochial schools the way PADS is.

The text amendment is likely to be on the agenda of next Monday (Oct. 6) night’s regular City Council meeting.