Unless the City Council decides otherwise in an appeal, the permit, granted Feb. 11 by zoning administrator Peter Gilli, allows the center to renovate the abandoned dry cleaning building near the train tracks — a site otherwise zoned for residential use. The center is still raising money for renovation of the building.
The "conditional use permit" requires the center to begin making improvements within two years. After that the center can operate indefinitely, though the city will work with neighbors if problems arise.
The crowd of opponents and supporters showing up for the decision was too big for the plaza conference room at City Hall where Gilli usually works, causing the meeting to be moved to the council chambers.
Most speakers supported the permit, including the pastors of the two churches the center has occupied over the years. But neighbors said the center would cause increased traffic, lower property values and make the neighborhood unsafe.
In his decision, Gilli said, "This would have been a close call, except that we have a track record with this organization."
Gilli said he began observing Day Worker Center a year ago when he granted a permit to allow it to move into Trinity United Methodist Church on the corner of Hope and Mercy streets. He drove by the church during his daily commute, he said, and saw no negative visual impact, even though around 100 workers per day were occupying the church, and hoping to get work about the same time Gilli drove by in the morning.
In fact, the site actually "got cleaned up," Gilli said in an e-mail to the Voice. Workers pulled weeds and worked on an outside play structure area. The big difference made by the center's presence was more bicycles and bike traffic, he said.
"One of the neighborhood concerns was that people would hang out on the sidewalk," Gilli said. "I do not recall ever seeing people congregating on the public sidewalks."
Furthermore, a traffic study found that there would be "no significant impacts" from traffic problems, Gilli said. Most of the workers commute by bicycle, while employers rarely arrive in more than a few cars at a time.
At the meeting, opponents presented a "Petition to Keep Our Neighborhood Safe," which had 130 signatures, and was accompanied by 10 letters in opposition. A petition from supporters had 59 signatures, which was accompanied by 45 letters of support.
The opponents' petition reads: "Housing the Day Worker Center on Escuela Avenue will increase traffic on an already busy residential street and worsen the already inadequate parking. Increased traffic decreases home values and increases noise and pollution. As traffic volume and speed increases, so does the accident rate, which is a detriment to the neighborhood children that play in their front yards. Putting this commercial business in our residential neighborhood will be a daily disadvantage to homeowners, residents and children."
Gilli said there have been indications from opponents that the decision will be appealed to the City Council, which would cost $350 — half of what the center paid to apply for the permit.