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The Crocodile's Controversial Zoning Request Put on Hold By Alderman

By Alisa Hauser | April 30, 2013 10:51am

WICKER PARK — Timing, as the saying goes, is everything.

A zoning change request for a building just south of the busy Milwaukee-Damen-North avenue intersection in Wicker Park scheduled to be discussed in a City Council subcommittee Tuesday was yanked from the agenda Monday by an alderman.

Matt Bailey, a spokesman for Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), said the owner of The Crocodile at 1540 N. Milwaukee Ave. needs to "speak to the community first" before the city goes ahead with plans to change the four-story building's zoning from a shopping district to a commercial area.

The zoning change would have been the first step for the bar owners in applying for a tavern license, since the existing zoning does not allow a tavern on the premises.

Currently, The Crocodile has an incidental liquor license, which is reserved for restaurants whose primary sales come from food rather than alcohol.

The city requires any establishment whose main source of business is selling alcohol on its premises to have a tavern license.

Richard Kruse, an attorney for the owners of The Crocodile and its landlord, said his clients' food-to-liquor sales ratio "is in the ballpark of 60-40" and they "want to get a tavern license with an accessory food service where food is incidental" to alcohol sales.

A popular nightlife spot known for its DJ music and basement dance floor, Crocodile opened in 2008 and promotes cheap drinks, free pizza and $3 paninis on its website, and offers an "all-you-care-to-eat" weekend brunch buffet. 

The lounge's extensive drink menu includes draft and bottled beers as well as concoctions such as "Crocbowls'' that contain juices and rums.

Radek Hawryszcuzk, 38, The Crocodile's general manager, said the idea to pursue the license change was suggested to him by Moreno last summer.

"Our numbers aren't where they should be. If there's an opportunity to switch over to a tavern license I'd rather do it correctly," Hawryszcuzk said.

Ed Tamminga, chairman of the Wicker Park Committee's preservation and development committee, said "commercial zoning should not be handed out very casually.

"It's a big zoning change because it fully allows a tavern occupancy with a lot of tavern activities. It's pretty wide open," Tamminga said.

Tamminga added: "You certainly have to assume Milwaukee Avenue doesn't need another tavern, the community needs to look long and hard at this."

According to a city zoning map, the 1500 block of North Milwaukee Avenue is primarily zoned as a community shopping district, with only two buildings with commercial zoning: 1566 N. Milwaukee Ave., which houses Empire Liquors and 1565 N. Milwaukee Ave., home to The Flat Iron Bar.

Tamminga said Monday The Crocodile only within the last few days posted a public notice in its window informing residents of Tuesday's committee meeting on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards. He said neighbors should have more time to learn about the bar's request.

"The whole community only learned of this recently, nobody had an opportunity to evaluate it and see if there's any grounds" for the license change.

Hawryszcuzk said he received the public notice posters from Kruse on April 19 and was "not informed" they needed to be hung well in advance of the scheduled Tuesday meeting.

"This is the swift kick in the ass that I needed. As long as everyone is happy and we can address any concerns the community has, I'm fine with a delay," he said. "I am not very versed on all the steps."

Tamminga said his group's next meeting will be May 21, and he expects the matter to be discussed then and for the Crocodile's owners and Moreno to be present.

Kruse said that "nobody told us we had to have a community meeting but if they want a community meeting, we'll have one."

The public notice in the window is dated March 13; according to online campaign contributions, on March 18 The Crocodile donated $2,000 to Friends of Proco Joe Moreno.

Hawryszcuzk said the donation was for a 2013 Kickoff Fundraiser for Moreno and that it had "no connection" to the the rezoning application.

"From day one we've donated" to Moreno, Hawryszcuzk said.

Before the March 13 donation, the last recorded donations from The Crocodile to Moreno were in 2011 for $3,000.

The Crocodile is owned by New York resident John McGillion, who leaves day-to-day managing operations to Hawryszcuzk. McGillion and building owner Mariuz Szpyrka, who lives in Florida, could not be reached for comment.