City keeps Roosevelt Road properties in limbo; Baptist church files lawsuit
May 6, 2017

By Susan S. Stevens

Rev. Nathan Carter of Immanuel Baptist Church notes that he, Immanuel Baptist Church, and its congregation want to be included as the Roosevelt Square development moves forward. (Photo by Troy Heinzeroth)

A church cannot get City permission to buy the building it rents.

Owners of a now demolished cleaning plant wait for the City to keep its promise to buy their land. Both properties in question sit on Roosevelt Road, in the same block where only an apartment building for seniors, Roosevelt Place, has stood in the midst of vacant land for several years.

For years, those involved have expected officials would fold the 1400 block of West Roosevelt Road into the Roosevelt Square redevelopment project.

Now Immanuel Baptist Church has filed a lawsuit, seeking to force the City to allow it to buy the onestory brick building it uses for a chapel and the three-flat next door to the west. The church pays $2,700 a month in rent and has agreed to buy the property for $750,000.

The issue: 19 off-street parking places. City officials demand the church provide them, but the property does not have room. Anyway, church officials say, there is plenty of parking on the street and in a nearby lot.

“Although a dispute over parking may seem trivial, this case concerns nothing less than the church’s fundamental civil rights,” according to the suit, filed in U.S. District Court.

Immanuel Baptist, at 1443 W. Roosevelt, has occupied the storefront since 2011. Its congregation numbers around 60, with weekly attendance about 80 and capacity for 146 people maximum “What we are seeking essentially is a declaration that the parking ordinance violates religious land use law and equal protection of the 14th Amendment,” said church attorney Sorin Leahu. “The church originally asked for a waiver of the ordinance, but was turned down. The lawsuit objects to what the church’s attorney said are “stricter parking regulations on religious assemblies than certain non-religious uses” such as live theaters.

A theater with fewer than 150 seats is not required to provide parking, the suit maintains, yet the City demands one off-street parking place for every eight seats in a church.

Equal Treatment

“We just want the church to be treated equally,” Leahu said. The waiver “would have been the trick but the City did not want to settle.” Officials scheduled a status hearing on the court case for May 4. Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward) tried to help negotiate. “I do believe they do need parking,” he said. “As of today, there is sufficient on-street parking, but five years down the road that situation might change.”

“By God’s grace we have been a faithful presence in this neighborhood for more than a decade,
preaching the gospel that liberates people to love their neighbors,” Rev. Nathan Carter of Immanuel Baptist Church said. “We are for the City, not against it. As the Roosevelt Square redevelopment moves forward we want to be included…so that we can continue to serve our community over the long haul and not be pushed or priced out.”

Ervin added, “I am hopeful that a solution can be sought,” and is concerned about disparate treatment for a church. “God bless them,” he added.

Circle Cleaners lots still in limbo

Nearby at 1417 to 1431 W. Roosevelt Rd., five vacant lots await a sale. Jim and Barb DiMuccio have believed for years that Roosevelt Square developers would buy the land that formerly housed their Circle Center Cleaners. While the City demolished the dry cleaning building in 2013, the land sits idle.

In 1998, the Chicago Housing Authority offered the DiMuccios $375,000 for the property. They accepted but have yet to see the money. The elderly couple cannot sell the land to anyone else because the City will not issue a building permit. “We don’t know what’s going on,” Jim DiMuccio said.

Barb DiMuccio said the last time anyone from the City contacted them was Aug. 15 of last year, with talk about their property being used for a community center.

“But nothing ever developed; nobody ever came back,” she said. “We can’t get answers from anybody. We would like to close that chapter and move on.”

The property in question “was our retirement,” she said. “Here we are. And we are still paying taxes on that property.”

The City Law Department and Department of Planning and Development had no comment.