The ban on serving alcoholic drinks at nude strip clubs in Chicago would soon be done away with under an ordinance the Council’s Zoning Committee approved yesterday. The ordinance was technically introduced by Ald. Emma Mitts (37). Ald. Ed Burke (14), recently tried and failed to get a similar ordinance through the previous council.

Present: Chairman Danny Solis (25), Vice Chair James Cappleman (46), Joe Moreno (1), Michelle Harris (8), Ed Burke (14), David Moore (17), Walter Burnett (27), Deb Mell (33), Carrie Austin (34), Emma Mitts (37), Marge Laurino (39), Brendan Reilly (42), Tom Tunney (44), Ameya Pawar (47).

Ald. Burke, who rarely attends zoning meetings unless there is a matter affecting his ward or an item he drafted up for consideration, showed up in the middle of yesterday’s meeting with his entourage of staffers by his side. Shortly after he entered the chambers, Ald. Mitts, who had arrived just minutes prior to Burke, was called to testify on behalf of the ordinance loosening restrictions on adult entertainment venues.

“I am asking the City Council to look in favor of supporting this ordinance so that we can level the playing field and create a few more dollars, and make it safer for these adult entertainments in the city of Chicago,” Ald. Mitts testified. There was no debate and the item passed almost immediately. At the time of the vote, another Council heavyweight, Ald. Carrie Austin (34), noted that she had “extreme reservations on part of it,” but still joined in with Ald. Burke on the motion to call for a vote. Three aldermen present–Deb Mell (33), Brendan Reilly (42), and James Cappleman(46)–asked to be recorded as voting no.

The ordinance, which was replaced with a substitute in committee, distinguishes between live and non-live adult entertainment, allowing venues with live shows, like strip clubs and cabarets, to serve alcohol and allow partially nude dancers. (The ordinance goes into explicit detail as to which body parts can be shown.)

Owners of non-live adult establishments, like bookstores and adult theaters, would be barred from changing their zoning designation to a live-use without first obtaining a special use permit. That change evidently closes a “loophole” in the municipal code, according to Ald. Mitts. She also testified the ordinance, “clarifies ambiguous language that resulted in two decades of litigation and it cost the city millions of dollars.”

Ald. Mitts noted that “out of the four licensed adult entertainments in the city, one has many issues with crime.” That establishment, said Mitts, is located in Ald. Anthony Beale’s 9th Ward on the city’s far South Side, and most of the crime occurred because of the owner’s BYOB policy, which she said made it hard to control patrons’ level of drinking.

According to the Chicago Tribune, almost a year to this day, Ald. Burke told reportershe didn’t bring up a similar ordinance he drafted last year because he didn’t think he had the votes. That meeting in question would have been the last time Burke could have brought up the item for a vote, because it was the last monthly meeting before the new council was sworn in, clearing all pending legislative items from the docket.

Burke maintained distance from this ordinance, verifying with Chairman Solis only that the city’s Law Department and Zoning Administrator looked over the language of the ordinance and were in agreement.

Highlights 

  • Some aldermen pushed back on a series of applications Ald. Matt O’Shea(19) introduced to downzone commercial strips in his ward to the lowest density allowable: B1-1 (Neighborhood Shopping District). An aide for Ald. O’Shea testified that the aldermen filed the applications to “keep consistent our business district,” and that most of the ward’s commercial streets already conform to that zoning designation. Ald. Reilly asked if there was a development plan for the area coming down the pipeline, to which Ald. O’Shea’s aide said no. Ald. Tom Tunney (44), who said that while he understood this was a “planning tool” aldermen use, agreed to support the zoning change, after he was assured the local chamber of commerce approved of it. As a business owner, Tunney said he knew the issues that businesses have to deal with when their zoning is changed and their establishment is subsequently found nonconforming. Ald. Austin (34) voted no.

  • At the very beginning of the meeting, when the committee was approving billboard signs, Ald. Tunney suggested that Chairman Solis do something to address illuminated billboards, because “the [zoning] code really doesn’t address this issue” and it is a “quality of life” issue for most residents. Tunney expressed worry that the city was opening itself up to a lawsuit because it was approving these type of signs so close to residential buildings. Chairman Solis suggested they create a sub-committee to look at it. Zoning Administrator Patti Scudiero said there is already a sub-committee on signs, but it’s possible that sub-committee, could be broken down to another sub-committee focused just on illuminated signs.