This originally appeared in the Chicago City Wire on November 13, 2017
By Brent Zell
A battle between a Chicago firefighter and an alderman over the zoning of a building continues, with accusations of abuse of power in tow.
Project Six recently detailed the story of firefighter Brian Strauss, who owns the building at 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave., and 1st Ward Alderman Joe Moreno, who is accused of using his office to rezone the building and cost Strauss money in the process. Strauss in July filed a lawsuit against Moreno, the city and the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards. The case was slated to go to court this month. Strauss claims that Moreno abused the power of his office to harass Strauss and put a former tenant of Strauss’s building back in the facility. In the process, Strauss claims, Moreno — along with complicity by the city and committee — violated his constitutional rights.
The dispute centers on Double Door, a concert venue formerly housed in Strauss’s building. The Double Door was evicted on a court order for violation of lease terms, Project Six reported. Moreno — who received campaign donations from Double Door — was recorded making threats to reclassify Strauss’s building to a lower classification and have constant inspections of the building unless Double Door was allowed back.
Double Door did not use its option to renew its lease in 2015, and Strauss said the business did not make required supplemental lease payments. Although Double Door’s lease ended on Oct. 31, 2015, it did not leave the building. Strauss filed suit in November 2015, seeking eviction of the businesses and unpaid rent of more than $100,000.
The month before the eviction case was set to go to trial in May 2016, Moreno sponsored a zoning change for Strauss’s building that would eliminate more than 30 types of businesses from being able to set up shop there.
A Cook County judge ruled in Strauss’s favor against Double Door in August 2016, ordering the business to leave the premises by the end of that year. The Cook County Sheriff evicted Double Door in February.
Moreno made it clear to Strauss and his attorney, James McKay, that he wanted Double Door to remain the tenant, Strauss and McKay claimed according to Project Six. Strauss searched for a new business for the newly vacant space, but the possibility of a zoning change made many interested parties move on.
Two developers approached Strauss with interest in buying the building, but in June, Moreno brought up modifications to the original proposal that downsized the zoning more suitable for houses. One developer backed out of a possible sale shortly after, while another developer dropped its sale price from $9.1 million to $6.5 million.
In September, the Zoning Committee approved rezoning the building to a different zone than Moreno’s original proposal but still made more than 30 business types and uses off-limits.
Strauss and McKay attended the committee meeting and went before the board to ask to vote “no” on Moreno’s plan. They indicated they would end the lawsuit if that were the result of the vote, according to Project Six. During the meeting, Moreno called the lawsuit “incompetent” and “frivolous.”