Ald. Gardiner to support rezoning for proposed private pickleball club inside closed St. Cornelius Church in Jefferson Park
by BRIAN NADIG
Alderman James Gardiner (45th) plans to support a zoning change that calls for a private pickleball club to open inside the closed Saint Cornelius Church, 5430 W. Foster Ave., in Jefferson Park.
“Based on the considerable feedback we received from the public meeting and letters of support from community groups, the 45th Ward office will support this proposal,” Gardiner said after a Dec. 4 community meeting he held at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave. About 35 people attended the meeting.
Plans calls for two pickleball courts to be installed in the church sanctuary.
The club would be intended for a group of 20 to 30 friends, whose membership dues would cover property taxes, maintenance costs and other expenses. The courts would not be available to the general public.
The overwhelming majority of meeting attendees did not object to the proposal, with one resident commenting that the project would have little impact on traffic and parking in the neighborhood. “That’s a small use of cars for a building that size,” the resident said.
The site includes a 32-space parking lot. Under the proposal the property would be rezoned from RS-3 to B2-1 to allow for participant sports.
Protect representative Chris Petrick said that he looked at several industrial properties but that the ceiling was not high enough and that he then began looking at former churches and movie theaters.
Petrick said that he expects a new roof would be needed for the church and that some environmental remediation may be needed.
The church basement may be available for community meetings and special neighborhood events, but there are no plans for party rentals, Petrick said in responses to a concern raised at the meeting.
“We hope you never see us … hear us,” Petrick said. “I truly want to be a good neighbor. … I’m 55 years old. I’m not going to have big parties. I’m here to play pickleball.”
A resident asked if there were any plans to add an outdoor court, expressing concerns that outdoor pickleball would create a noise problem for neighbors.
The only space for an outdoor court would be the parking lot, and there are no plans to get rid of the lot, Petrick said. The proposed B2-1 allows for indoor sports but not outdoors.
Concerns also were raised about “blind corners” in alleys or streets near the church. Petrick said that he would look into installing signage warning drivers or cut back some of the bushes near corners in order to increase visibility for motorists.
Inquiries also were made about the possibility of residents having the option of joining the club.
Petrick said that at this time the nonprofit club would be only for his group of friends but that if there were ever openings, he would be open to the idea.
There would be 24-hour surveillance cameras throughout the site, and members would make reservations online and then use a key card to enter the facility.
Gardiner has said that he is glad the proposal would preserve the exterior of the church, which served generations of local families.
The former church, which closed several years ago, is now part of the Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity Parish, which also includes the former Saint Tarcissus and Saint Thecla parishes.
The former Saint Cornelius School, 5252 N. Long Ave., is now the Catalpa Early Learning Center, which is operated the Chicago Public Schools.
A couple churches reportedly have expressed interested in buying the former Saint Cornelius Church, but nothing has materialized. Petrick is planning to purchase the building.