The City Council’s Zoning Committee on Monday down-zoned the property that once housed the now-shuttered Double Door music venue in Wicker Park over the property owner’s strenuous objections.
Local Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1st) used his iron-fisted control over zoning to muscle through a change that will strengthen his hand in determining the future of the property at 1572 N. Milwaukee.
“It’s a planning tool. We want the community to have a say. We don’t want anyone to lose money,” Moreno said after the vote.
“We don’t make zoning changes based on how much money people are going to make or lose. That’s for the market to decide — not me. What we want is a planning tool so we have a responsible business that contributes to the community. And I hope he makes a lot of money when he sells it.”
Moreno noted that the down-zoning approved Monday was not as drastic as the original version.
It would have gone from B3-2 to B1-1. Instead, it’ll be reduced to B2-2, giving the property owner a bit more leeway.
“I wanted the Planning Department and the Law Department to support it. The first one, they said, `We really can’t support that.’ I said, `Fine. Let’s change it to something you can support,’ ” Moreno said.
Moreno called the federal civil rights lawsuit filed by property owner Brian Strauss in July “frivolous” and devoid of facts.
“Two years, they have not brought me one person. Prior to downzoning, too. Not one person has come to see me and said, `This is what I want to do with the building,'” Moreno said.
Prior to the final vote, Strauss offered to drop the lawsuit if aldermen “do the right thing and walk away from this” down-zoning.
His attorney Jim McKay argued that the down-zoning is “completely out of character with what is going on in that wonderful neighborhood.”
“This is a violation of the Strauss family’s civil rights. This violates the United States Constitution and the Illinois Constitution. This is arbitrary and capricious. Don’t be a rubber-stamp for this nonsense. Don’t enable this man [Moreno], who is acting irresponsibly,” McKay said. “You have an opportunity to do the right thing. Exercise your integrity. Exercise your discretion and stop this now.”
Under questioning from Ald. James Cappleman (46th), McKay said a down-zoning of any kind will “absolutely decrease the value” of Strauss property “by millions of dollars.”
Cappleman replied, “It’s for that reason that I can’t support this.”
Two months ago, Strauss filed a lawsuit that accused Moreno of using his power over local zoning as a weapon against the building owner. It named the city and the Zoning Committee as defendants and sought more than $9.6 million in damages.
The building has been owned by the Strauss family for nearly 40 years. In 2015, Strauss claimed Door Door had violated its lease, triggering a legal battle that concluded with the club being shuttered and the locks being changed earlier this year.
According to the suit, the building has been zoned as a B3-2 property since 1974, which allowed the owners to rent the street-level space as commercial property.
Strauss claimed Moreno “had a personal and financial relationship” with Double Door’s owners and introduced a zoning change in April 2015 before the zoning committee “in an effort to keep his friends at Double Door as tenants in Strauss’s building.”
In a private meeting on Feb. 8 at City Hall — two days after Double Door was evicted — Strauss said Planning and Development Commissioner David Reifman tried to broker a deal for Strauss to sell the building to Double Door’s owners — a suggestion rejected by both parties.
At that meeting, Strauss said Moreno used “subtle threats” to warn him that if he did not allow Double Door back into the space, he would be subject to a long and expensive zoning process and that the space could remain vacant for years.
On Feb. 25, according to the lawsuit, Moreno and Strauss were involved in a videotaped confrontation outside the former Double Door location in which Moreno told him, “I’m gonna have inspectors in here on a daily basis, you watch.” Also: “It’s gonna be an empty building with no income for you or your family.”
Moreno has acknowledged that the two men got into an argument that was videotaped. But he has categorically denied using threats or intimidation to help “his friends” at the now-shuttered music venue.