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Friday, Oct. 25, 2013 10:59 am

The end of the rainbow?

Zoning commission recommends kicking parolees out of near north side

The Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission voted last week not to allow a parolee housing organization to remain in a north side neighborhood, but the final say will come from the Springfield City Council next month.
    House of the Rainbow, which offers temporary housing for recent prison parolees at four houses on north 10th Street, has operated with improper zoning since 2005. The two owners of the houses asked the City of Springfield to rezone them, but some nearby residents want the parolees out of the
neighborhood.
    “This is the perfect place for what House of the Rainbow is doing,” said Springfield attorney Tom Immel at a public hearing on Oct. 16. “The people are literally isolated from the rest of the world, and they can focus on their problems and getting their lives back together. They’re on an island…Rainbow Island.”
    Immel represents House of the Rainbow owner David Kettelkamp and Monica Robles, who owns a house rented by Kettelkamp. House of the Rainbow contracts with the Illinois Department of Corrections to house recent parolees while they seek jobs and permanent housing.
    The five houses are currently zoned R-2, which is for single family homes, but the owners have asked the city to rezone them to R-3, which includes rehabilitation homes. Immel says he also filed a proposal to grant House of the Rainbow a zoning “variance” – essentially an exception to the rules – adding that Kettelkamp has offered not to house sex offenders any longer.
    The houses are located at 921, 923, 933 and 1003 N. 10th, with another at 922 Enterprise St. Each house can hold up to five adult male parolees, though Immel says the houses generally aren’t at capacity.
    At the hearing, Immel told the commission members that Kettelkamp’s operation doesn’t harm the neighborhood and that most residents nearby didn’t even know House of the Rainbow existed until a parolee named Mark Brown cut off his electronic monitoring bracelet, allegedly murdered a homeless woman and fled Springfield. Brown is currently awaiting trial.
    That House of the Rainbow existed for about eight years without attracting scrutiny is a testament to the safety of the operation, Immel argued, adding that the electronic monitoring devices confine parolees to the properties upon which the houses sit. The parolees are only allowed to leave at designated times to look for jobs, attend religious services and shop for supplies.
    Steve Combs, president of the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association, objected to the rezoning request, saying House of the Rainbow doesn’t fit in with the neighborhood’s master plan and its ongoing revitalization efforts. The plan calls for returning the neighborhood to single-family, owner-occupied homes.
    “I assure you, we are making an unbelievable amount of progress, and we’re very proud of that,” he said. “To take a step that we feel is backward in accepting this petition is not where we want to go.”
    Combs and Immel disagree on whether House of the Rainbow is inside the boundaries of Enos Park.
The Springfield Sangamon County Regional Planning Commission, which provides analyses of all zoning cases in the city and county, recommended that the city deny House of the Rainbow’s rezoning request because the city plan calls for the area to be “lower density residential” space, which means single family homes.
    A parolee who formerly stayed at House of the Rainbow told Illinois Times he thinks the houses should not be allowed to continue housing parolees. He asked to be identified only by the pseudonym Stephen Douglas, after the Illinois historical figure. He claims to have witnessed fellow parolees using drugs and inviting prostitutes into the houses, which he attributes to the parolees being unsupervised. That conflicts with what Kettelkamp has said through documents filed with the city, including a letter from the Illinois Department of Corrections stating Kettelkamp
provides advocacy services, vocational training, mentoring and more.
    Commissioners Brad Mills, Bill Moss, Charlie Stratton, Thomas Wood and Valera Yazell voted to accept the report of the regional planning commission, which amounts to recommending that the city council deny the rezoning request. Commissioners Chrystal Alexander and Bruce Strom voted not to accept the report. Commission members are appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council. The commission’s decision is nonbinding and acts as a recommendation for final action by the city council.
    Regardless of what the city council decides, House of the Rainbow probably won’t remain at its current location for long. The houses are scheduled to be demolished to make room for the rail consolidation along 10th Street. The timeline for that process hasn’t been set, but Kettelkamp wants to continue operating there in the meantime. If the city council doesn’t approve the rezoning requests, Kettelkamp will likely have to move his operation.
    Final action on the petitions for rezoning is scheduled for Nov. 19.
Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.
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