HYDE PARK — The University of Chicago will try again next week to overturn a liquor ban on a stretch of East 53rd Street.
A late March attempt to reverse a 23-year ban on alcohol was rejected by the City Clerk’s Office because of a typo in the description of the affected area. All 60 signatures on the petitions were thrown out.
“We believe the clearest and fastest way to solve this concern is to gather fresh signatures on a reformatted version of the petition,” said Calmetta Coleman, a spokeswoman in the university’s Office of Civic Engagement.
The university is pursuing more leniency in liquor sales to accommodate chef Matthias Merges, who is planning a Japanese street-food restaurant at 1301 E. 53rd St. To do that, the university must get the approval from two-thirds of registered voters in the area affected.
The affected area is a two-block stretch of East 53rd Street and South Kimbark Avenue in the 4th Ward’s first precinct that was shifted over from the dry 31st precinct during the 2012 remap of the ward boundaries.
“A large majority of residents of the annexed area signed the first petition and support the opportunity to bring a high-quality restaurant operated by award-winning chef Matthias Merges to their neighborhood,” Coleman said. “In the coming days, we will be contacting registered voters within the annexed area of the precinct and will begin recollecting signatures.”
The university collected enough signatures to overturn the liquor ban, but because the paperwork was rejected by the City Clerk’s Office, objections from neighbors against the move were never heard.
“I don’t like the process, I don’t like the speed with which this has happened, and I have doubts about the university’s ultimate plans for the site,” said Tom Panelas, who challenged the legitimacy of the last petition.
Panelas contended in his objection that many of the signatures came from voters outside the area or did not match signatures on file with the Board of Elections. He said he suspects the university has larger development plans in the works for the area.
Other neighbors upset with the process claimed that the new ward map is not yet in effect and the action could not be taken until after the first election with the new boundaries.
Roderick Drew, an attorney for the city representing the City Clerk’s Office, said the new maps were used in the November election last year and could be used for this purpose.
Petitions are expected to circulate next week and residents of the affected area will have 30 days to challenge the petitions after they are filed with the City Clerk’s Office.