After a contentious neighborhood meeting that turned into a battle with rival social media accounts and a nasty leaflet campaign, it’s now official: Haymarket Books will be moving into Buena Park after all.
The nonprofit book publisher had its hearing at the Zoning Board of Appeals last Friday and learned on Monday that it had received its special use permit for the mansion at the corner of Buena and Clarendon. This will allow Haymarket to turn the first floor into a reading room where it will host readings and other special events, although the building will still be zoned as residential, not commercial.
“We’re really excited to finally have our own space that we’ll be proud to invite people to,” says Jim Plank, a spokesman for Haymarket. He says the publisher will receive the permit at the next committee meeting in mid-August and close on the sale at the end of the month. They’ve hired an architect to work on renovations and repairs—among other things, the building needs a new roof—but Plank says they’re planning to move in sometime in early 2018.
The decision came after a special election run by alderman James Cappleman’s office open to anyone who lived within 250 feet of the property. This is highly unusual, but after a small but vocal group of protesters derailed a June meeting to discuss the issue, the Buena Park Neighbors Association, which ordinarily would have made the decision, decided not to get involved.
The official vote was 50 for issuing Haymarket the permit, 30 against, but unofficially—meaning people who didn’t live within 250 feet—the vote was 322-94.
Protesters had opposed Haymarket’s move to Buena Park from its current headquarters in North Center on several grounds: that the publisher would destroy the historic character of the house and the neighborhood and that the readings would attract too much traffic and “radicals, activists and self-described revolutionaries” (according to a flyer that had been distributed around the neighborhood), which at least neighbor interpreted to mean that bombs would be built in the basement. Some were also concerned because Haymarket is a subsidiary of the Center for Economic Research and Social Change (SERSC), which also supports Mondoweiss, a website that describes itself as “devoted to covering American foreign policy in the Middle East, chiefly from a progressive Jewish perspective”; they interpreted this as anti-Semitic. (Mondoweiss is a separate operation from Haymarket and will have no part of the property on Buena because none of its editors live in Chicago.)
Plank says that Haymarket has no plans to change the exterior of the building. “We love the way it looks and how it fits into the neighborhood,” he says. “Inside right now, though, the first floor is a preschool. We’re hoping to put in an event space.”
Haymarket will be working with Neighbors for Haymarket Books, a group that emerged to protest the protesters, and the alderman’s office to work out a good neighbor agreement, a written document with information about whom neighbors can contact if they have a problem with noise or parking.
Organizers of Neighbors for Haymarket Books were also pleased by the decision, though they were jarred by the disruption to the neighborhood.
“A very very special thanks to all the folks at Haymarket for their commitment to our neighborhood despite the many trials and tribulations we put them through,” Renner Barsella, the group’s administrator, wrote on its Facebook page. “We are proud to welcome you to Buena Park! I also want to recognize that this does not mean our work is done. This effort has demonstrated again how deeply divided our Uptown family is. Over the coming days and weeks I’ll be looking for ways to carry this effort forward beyond just Haymarket.”