Zoning change for Champaign soup kitchens OK'd
CHAMPAIGN — Against the persistent opposition of North First Street business owners, city council members Tuesday night made it possible for soup kitchens to open their doors wherever restaurants are allowed in the city.
The relatively minor wording change in the city's zoning code has precipitated major worries among North First Street business owners who think Tuesday's action will make it possible for the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen to move to their block.
Daily Bread board President Bob Goss reiterated again that his agency has no concrete plans to move for at least two years, but the debate has stirred emotions about what to do with the city's neediest people.
The 8-1 vote Tuesday night redefined a restaurant in city zoning rules from an establishment that charges for food to one that just serves food. The change ostensibly means soup kitchens or meal centers would be looked at as restaurants in zoning decisions, and therefore would be allowed to open without city council review wherever a restaurant is allowed.
Rumors circulated that Daily Bread, which currently operates out of the New Covenant Fellowship church at 124 W. White St., C, was looking at moving to a building in the 100 block of North First Street. Nearby business owners asked the council Tuesday night to table the issue until they could figure out a different way to deal with the situation.
"Soup kitchens are not just like restaurants," said William Jones, a city human-relations commissioner and owner of Rose and Taylor Barber and Beauty at 124 N. First St.
He added that zoning rules should aim to raise the taxable value of city land. And just because soup kitchens serve food, Jones said, does not mean they operate like restaurants.
"Restaurants don't have 200 people arriving at the same time," Jones said.
Tuesday night was the second time business owners came to the council to oppose the legislation. Will Kyles, the only council member who voted against the change, said the business owners were looking for "empathy," and that the perception of a nearby soup kitchen could affect customers.
"Acknowledge that there could be some issues," Kyles said. "Whether they're short-term or long-term, there may be some issues that exist."
The issue likely is moot. Goss said his meal center has no plans to move at this time, and it's actually looking at two other sites he thinks would work better than the North First Street location.
What the soup kitchen really needs is more space, Goss said, and it will try to find a site that balances the needs of the community with the needs of Daily Bread.
"We will go where it's best for the community," Goss said.
But Tuesday's debate underscored the community's feelings toward the city's neediest people who get their meals at Daily Bread. Council member Michael La Due said it is wrong to send away the city's poorest people and that residents need to "overcome the apprehension."
Ultimately, the vote takes the decision about where to put soup kitchens out of the city's hands. Council member Deborah Frank Feinen said it is fairer this way, and council member Karen Foster said it's premature to think that council members were making any concrete decisions on Tuesday night.
"We've not even had any plans for a business that would be coming in to that area that I've heard about, only rumors," Foster said. "I think that this zoning change is not only speaking about North First (Street). This zoning change is for the whole city."
As the vote neared, Kyles said some city officials may have misunderstood the comments of the North First Street business owners. He reminded them that many of the statements came from people who have "worked side-by-side on some of our toughest issues."
"They were trying to figure out how to balance the needs of the most vulnerable society while at the same time being able to manage their businesses," Kyles said.