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Ex-Double Door Site's Zoning Changed By City, Despite Building Owner Pleas

By  Alisa Hauser and Heather Cherone | October 11, 2017 3:08pm | Updated on October 11, 2017 5:00pm

 Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), Double Door and building owner Brian Strauss.
Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), Double Door and building owner Brian Strauss.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

CITY COUNCIL — The City Council Wednesday voted to change the zoning on the building that previously housed the famed music club Double Door — despite the owner's repeated pleas that the move will make the property less valuable and harder to sell.

The action, known as "downzoning," was initiated by 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno who was captured on video in May threatening to ensure building owner Brian Strauss would be stuck with an "empty building with no income" after Strauss feuded with the club.

The zoning change, approved by the Council 46-2-2, gives Moreno more control over what will replace the Double Door. Strauss has argued that the change in zoning attempt was the result of the clash between him and Moreno, a longtime supporter of the Double Door club Strauss evicted.

 Workers move to demolish the interior of the former Double Door.
Workers move to demolish the interior of the former Double Door.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

Aldermen James Cappelman (46th) and Patrick O'Connor (40th) voted no; Aldermen Nicolas Sposato (38th) and Anthony Napolitano (41st) abstained from the vote.

Before the vote, Strauss and his son, whose family has owned the building since 1977, pleaded with the Council not to change the zoning.

“I only ask that my family and I continue on with the zoning we have had for the last 40 years,” Strauss said, calling the Double Door building at 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave. his family's most valuable asset.

"My civil rights are being violated,” Strauss said, urging the Council members to “just say no.”

Connor Strauss, Brain Strauss' son, urged the Council not to be "a rubber stamp" for "a rogue alderman" and said Moreno's efforts to change the zoning "has already cost my family millions of dollars.”

The measure was given the green light in September by the city's Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards, but required a vote before the Council.

James McKay, a lawyer for Brian Strauss, said that the zoning shift, to a designation that limits the use and type of tenants that can rent there, is a violation of Strauss' civil rights.

"This alderman is treating this particular citizen differently than everyone else for personal and vindictive reasons," McKay said, adding that "no one in the community is asking for [the zoning change]. "

In May, CBS2 broadcast a cellphone video showing Moreno telling Strauss in February, "You are not going to get a dime out of this building. It's going to be an empty building with no income for you or your family. End of conversation."

Moreno did not respond to a request for comment after the vote. Previously, he said he was acting within his power as a Council member. Aldermen have near complete control over zoning regulations in their wards with the almost absolute power to stop developments from being built or businesses from opening without their approval.

Like most of its neighboring buildings, the former Double Door building has a "B3-2" zoning designation that is intended to spur shopping and retail development in a commercial corridor, often along major streets, according to Second City Zoning, a nonprofit that uses data "to make Chicago's zoning code digestible by humans."

The just-approved zoning change to a B2-2 designation, would mean that new commercial or retail renters get fewer options, and if they wanted to make a change such as adding a bar, they’d have to go through a lengthy approval process with the city.

The B2-2 zoning is for retail storefronts with apartments allowed on the ground floor. The just-approved B2-2 zoning is "intended to spur development in commercial corridors with low demand for retail," according to Second City Zoning.

Small, 300-square-foot studio apartments would not be allowed above the former Double Door under the new zoning, which restricts residential dwellings to a minimum of 700 square feet. Currently, there are 11 loft-style apartments above the former venue, all larger than studios.

According to city records, Wednesday's approved zoning change was the third time Moreno tried changing the zoning of  the unique 113-year-old building, which wraps around the Milwaukee and Damen avenue corner and has a door at 1570-72 N. Milwaukee Ave., and at 1551-59 N. Damen Ave.

Moreno previously threatened a zoning change in 2016, when Double Door was battling Strauss during a 1½-year eviction case, but that motion was tabled. The matter resurfaced in June, when Moreno tried to give the site a zoning designation reserved for single-family homes.

Strauss is pursuing a federal lawsuit against Moreno and the city. The lawsuit seeks $9.6 million in damages and alleges Moreno violated Strauss' civil rights when the Wicker Park politician inappropriately initiated the zoning change that drove away a buyer of the building.

Because the zoning change would reduce options for future tenants, buyers and renters have been reluctant to bid on the property, Strauss has said.

The first hearing on the federal suit was Tuesday before District Judge Rebecca Judge Pallmeyer, according to McKay.

"It was brief, an opportunity for both sides to meet the judge and tell her who the lawyers are," McKay said. The next court case is set for Nov. 15.

McKay previously said any move by the city to restrict how the property is used would restrict its value by millions of dollars.

Moreno said the city's Law Department — as well as his private attorney — determined Strauss' lawsuit was "incompetent and frivolous."

The building has been closed since Feb. 6 when Double Door was evicted. Work is underway to renovate it for a potential tenant.

Strauss initiated eviction proceedings against Double Door co-owners Sean Mulroney and Joe Shanahan in November 2015.