Reporting Dorothy Tucker
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CHICAGO (CBS) — The chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee is warning Ald. Proco “Joe” Moreno (1st) not to try to block a Chick-Fil-A restaurant from coming to his ward simply because the head of the company publicly opposes same sex marriage.
If the hustle and bustle of the Chick-Fil-A restaurant on Chicago Avenue in the Near North neighborhood is to be duplicated at a new site in Logan Square, the company will need the approval of the Zoning Committee to build on the vacant site they are eyeing on the 2500 block of North Elston Avenue.
Ald. Daniel Solis (25th), who chairs the Zoning Committee, said Thursday if Moreno’s only objection when Chick-Fil-A comes before the panel for approval of its plans to build in Logan Square is company president Dan Cathy’s public comments against same-sex marriage, he’d have to override Moreno’s “aldermanic privilege” regarding zoning for the restaurant.
Although it’s not an official part of the city code, in the vast majority of cases, Chicago aldermen enjoy the power of “aldermanic privilege” when deciding what businesses receive the needed zoning to open shop in their wards.
That means, if an alderman does not support a specific project for his ward, even if most other aldermen would support it, they typically bow to their colleague’s wishes on zoning matters.
However, on rare occasions, the City Council has ignored the tradition of “aldermanic privilege,” on such matters.
Solis said that could happen in the ongoing dispute between Moreno and Chick-Fil-A if Moreno isn’t careful how he proceeds in his efforts to block the chain from opening a restaurant in Logan Square.
“I’m not going to be considering my recommendation on that item, if it gets presented to that committee based on the human rights issue,” Solis said. “I’m going to be considering it on the zoning issues, whether it’s traffic, safety, right of way issues – and that’s going to be the basis of our decision.”
Moreno has said he also has concerns about the traffic a drive-through Chick-Fil-A would create in the ward, but his most vocal objection to date has been Cathy’s public comments opposing same-sex marriage.
“I’m not gonna sit on the sidelines, and allow them to come in, when I know in my heart that they believe in discriminating against gay people,” Moreno said Wednesday.
It wouldn’t be the first time something other than typical zoning matters has stood in the way of a business opening up in Chicago. In 2004, when Wal-Mart tried to open two stores in the city, aldermen at first threatened to block the company, criticizing the wages and benefits paid to employees. Ultimately, they voted in 2004 to allow one store on the West Side, while blocking a second store on the South Side until 2010.
However, Solis said Moreno should not try to block Chick-Fil-A’s plans, just because he disagrees with Cathy’s objection to gay marriage.
“That’s not going to be an issue that will be considered in the decision of the committee, and my recommendation,” Solis said.
He said, if Moreno asks the committee to block Chick-Fil-A over human rights issues tied to Cathy’s stance on gay marriage, he would override Moreno’s aldermanic privilege.
“Yes I would, because I would not be on good legal ground to support that,” Solis said.
The Chick-Fil-A plan has not yet been presented to the Zoning Committee for consideration.
If and when it is, the owners of the only other Chick-Fil-A restaurant in Chicago said they would like Moreno to visit their restaurant, and listen to their views so he can see Chick-Fil-A does not discriminate.
“On a local level, I will say that we are open to any sort of lifestyle, belief … what you want to believe in, what you do,” said Lauren Silich, owner of the Chick-Fil-A on Chicago Avenue. “To me it really doesn’t matter. I just want to run a great restaurant in a city that I love.”
With Solis on record that he’d overrule any objection to the Chick-Fil-A over the dispute regarding gay marriage, CBS 2 asked Moreno to respond. His spokesperson sent a message saying, “We’re objecting to this on the basis of the homphobic omments, as well as the additional traffic the restaurant would create.”
Silich has also invited Mayor Rahm Emanuel to meet her at the restaurant to see that she and her husband are committed to the community.
“I would like to invite Mayor Emanuel into my restaurant to meet me, my husband Steve, and my management staff,” Silich said in the statement, which was published in full by the Chicago Tribune RedEye. “We are a family of deep Chicago roots—my husband and I both came from city worker families (teachers, police, laborers) and Steve is a city worker.”
Silich went on to characterize herself and her husband as “real people and taxpayers,” who operate an independently owned Chick-Fil-A.
“We are Chicagoans who are dedicated to serving our community,” Silich said in the statement. “We hold fundraisers for hospitals, school, fallen police and we donate to a wide variety of causes, including everything from churches to gay and lesbian organizations.”
She added that the Water Tower Chick-Fil-A created 97 jobs in the past year.
Meantime, the Chicago Republican Party said Thursday that it plans to file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the Illinois Attorney General’s office over Moreno’s plans to block Chick-Fil-A.
“Alderman Moreno has stated publicly that he will block the company’s move to open a restaurant in the 1st Ward because he disagrees with the owner’s religious views. Alderman Moreno’s actions constitute clear religious discrimination, and are barred by both Illinois and Federal law,” Chicago Republican Party vice chairman Chris Cleveland said in an email. “Alderman Moreno is attempting to use the hammer of goverment action to harm a person’s business after that person expressed religious views with which Alderman Moreno disagrees. It’s hard to imagine a clearer violation of First Amendment rights.”