Former Legislative Inspector General Faisal Khan is once again stirring up trouble for a City Council that tied his hands and forced him out — this time by shining more light on new zoning rules imposed on the owner of a building that once housed the now-shuttered Double Door music venue in Wicker Park.
The City Council voted Wednesday to down-zone the property at 1572 N. Milwaukee — in a way not nearly as drastic as an earlier proposal — at the behest of local Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st).
Moreno flexed the iron-fisted control aldermen have over zoning in their wards despite the strenuous objections of property owner Brian Strauss, who has accused Moreno of using threats and intimidation to benefit “his friends” at Double Door.
Now, Khan is out with a new investigation that goes beyond allegations made in Strauss’ pending lawsuit against Moreno and the city.
It details four separate offers to purchase Strauss’ building at prices starting at $10 million in January 2016 and fell to $6.5 million by August of this year — offers that all fell through because of Moreno’s proposals to down-zone the property.
According to Khan, that means Strauss has already lost $3.5 million and “hundreds of thousands” of dollars more in rental income.
“Alderman Moreno has abused his power and title. … Aldermen do not get to bully and intimidate constituents, and they certainly have no authority to dictate who a business owner rents to, or how he operates his business,” Khan was quoted as saying in a press release.
Details of Khan’s findings are posted on the website of Project Six, the non-profit watchdog he now runs.
“Alderman Moreno has called this conduct, ‘fighting for his constituents.’ It is not. It is giving power to business tenants who were lawfully evicted by a court for failing to pay rent but have donated thousands to Alderman Moreno. The alderman’s conduct has cost Strauss and his family millions of dollars. But most appallingly, it will cost taxpayers even more in lawsuit costs and payouts against the city.”
Moreno did not return repeated phone calls. In a text message to the Chicago Sun-Times, he wrote, “I’m doing senior visits. What’s up?”
When he was told it was about Khan’s investigation, the alderman did not respond.
Strauss’ attorney Jim McKay said Khan’s investigation includes new details not included in his lawsuit. They include a meeting Strauss had with Moreno in 2012.
“Moreno told him in front of witnesses that Double Door was gonna be the only tenant that would ever be allowed in that building,” McKay said.
Also noted in the new report, McKay said, is “the timing of the down-zoning proposals. There’s three different down-zoning moves. … There’s no benefit to the community. … Every building in that immediate area is zoned at B3-2 or higher. … This is a large building. It’s been B3-2 for over 40 years. Why is this happening?”
McKay called the City Council’s decision to modify the down-zoning to a less restrictive B2-2 an “admission of guilt” — but “too little, too late.”
“There is no legitimate legislative reason for singling out Brian and his family and this building,” McKay said. “This alderman is hurting them for the simple reason of revenge and getting even because this land owner wouldn’t allow his friends from Double Door back in.”
Moreno has acknowledged getting into a Feb. 25 argument with Strauss that was videotaped. But the alderman has categorically denied using threats and intimidation to keep “his friends” at the now-shuttered Double Door music venue in Strauss’ building.
Khan’s report alleges no wrongdoing by the Double Door’s owners, but does include an email indicating one of the owners, Sean Mulroney, met with Moreno and Mayor Rahm Emanuel in January.
Nathaniel Hamilton, a spokesman for Project Six, said that email was included to show the mayor’s office was at least aware of and may have helped to arrange a February meeting at which Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman tried to broker the sale of the building to the Double Door owners at below market value.
When Project Six asked what was discussed at the January meeting, the mayor’s office declined to comment, citing Strauss’ pending lawsuit.
Moreno has said his only motivation is to make certain that residents of the trendy neighborhood and their local alderman have control over what goes into the building that housed the club where the Rolling Stones once played.