WICKER PARK — Brian Strauss, owner of the building that formerly housed the Double Door, seeks $9.6 million in damages in a lawsuit that alleges 1st Ward Ald. Joe Moreno violated his civil rights when the Wicker Park politician initiated an inappropriate zoning change that drove away a buyer of the building.
First reported by the Sun-Times on Thursday, the federal suit alleges that Moreno used threats and political intimidation against Strauss in a personal vendetta over the eviction of the club.
The suit also names the City of Chicago and the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards as defendants.
Strauss alleges that Moreno used “aldermanic power” to initiate a zoning change of the building twice. Those measures — first introduced in April 2016 while the club was in the middle of what would become a long eviction battle that it ultimately lost, and in June — both were deferred.
The proposed zoning changes would cut options for future tenants, and while they have not been approved, Strauss alleges they have made buyers and renters reluctant to bid on the property.
The amount of $9.6 million Straus wants is related to an offer of $9.6 million that the lawsuit states Strauss had from a prospective buyer of the nearly 20,000-square-foot building.
But that unnamed buyer allegedly backed out of the deal after Moreno introduced a zoning change that would only allow a single-family home at the site.
“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 told Strauss in a conversation recorded in a cellphone video in late February that was broadcast by CBS2 in May.
Since 1977, Strauss’ family has owned the building, which has a door at 1570-72 N. Milwaukee Ave. and another one at 1551-59 N. Damen Ave., giving the former club its Double Door name.
For 18 months, Double Door co-owners Sean Mulroney and Joe Shanahan battled Strauss in court over whether the club had given enough notice that they wanted to renew the venue’s lease. Double Door lost the battle and was evicted Feb 6 by the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.
Moreno declined to comment on Friday.
Moreno previously told DNAinfo that Strauss is “a dishonest man and irresponsible landlord.”
“He tries to bully everyone, and unfortunately, you have to take on a bully by being a bully,” Moreno said in May.
Jim McKay, Strauss’ lawyer, told DNAinfo on Friday that a copy of the complaint is being served to all the defendants in the case, including Moreno, and after city lawyers file a response, the case will move to a discovery phase and go to trial.
“We are ready for a trial right now,” McKay said. “Why it came to this [a lawsuit] is because the alderman continues to single out Brian and his family and continues to harm them by proposing downzoning ordinances that offer no benefit to the community. [Moreno’s] moves are arbitrary and capricious and violate Brian’s rights to do business.”
McKay called Moreno’s most recent proposal to zone the property as a detached single-family home “ridiculous and insane.”
“It would look so out of place, out of harmony, with the rest of the neighborhood. It’s like putting a single-family home at the corner of State and Madison. It’s like a joke, but not funny.”
When asked if Strauss would drop the complaint if Moreno canceled the twice-tabled zoning changes that have allegedly held Strauss back from making money from new tenants or a building sale, McKay replied, “While it would mitigate the damage to [Strauss] it would not alleviate it completely.”
“[Strauss] has still been harmed. These proposals that are left lingering by Moreno and the zoning committee have clearly created a dark cloud over the property,” the lawyer said.
Read Strauss’ complaint, below: