Liquor permit for 53rd Street spot back to square one

Staff Writer

The University of Chicago’s attempt to allow liquor sales on a portion of 53rd Street has failed.

The petition filed with the Chicago City Clerk’s office by the U. of C. to overturn the prohibition on the sale of liquor in a portion of Hyde Park was denied. The city clerk’s office denied the petition because the petition did not accurately describe the area.

The petition described the area as “… west of South Dorchester Avenue to its intersection with East 53rd Street; east along East 53rd Street to its intersection with South Kimbark Avenue.” The area where the sale of alcohol is prohibited is bordered by 53rd Street on the north, Kimbark Avenue on the west, 55th Street on the south and Dorchester Avenue on the west.

“The petition was not filed in a proper form as it did not accurately describe the area. It was rejected on those grounds,” said Roderick Drew, City of Chicago Law Department.
To resubmit a petition the university will need to collect signatures all over again.

“We are working with the city’s representatives regarding issues that have been raised in connection with the petition. We look forward to welcoming Yusho and Chef Merges to Hyde Park,” said university spokesmen Calmetta Coleman in an e-mail.

On Feb. 22, the university filed a petition with the City Clerk’s office containing the signatures of 60 residents of the portion of the first precinct in the Fourth Ward. Two Hyde Parkers also filed a suit against the clerk’s office to prevent the petition’s request to allow the sale of liquor and to declare the petition invalid.

Thomas Panelas and Jane Averill, who both live on the 1300 block of East 54th Street, filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Cook County on March 22.

The lawsuit argues that the description for the dry area was “given in confusing, legal language instead of plain, nonlegal language as required,” and the description of the area was incorrect. In addition to that the lawsuit says signatures were added to petition pages after they had been notarized, that signatures were not genuine, and from voters not registered in the area.

The petition collected by the university contains 60 signatures out of 79 registered voters, seven more than the 53 required by law for the petition to be filed. Filing a petition with the signatures of at least two thirds of the registered voters in an area would allow the law to be overturned without having an election.

Panelas’ biggest concerns with the petition is that it’s a symptom of the university taking strong actions without explaining its long term plans to residents.

“The way this petition came about was kind of fast and without much discussion and it happened on the heels of a rezoning of the same site where this Japanese restaurant is supposed to go,” Panelas said. “With everything else in the neighborhood, the university moving so quickly on so many things, we want to find out more about what’s going to happen here.”

Panelas said he wasn’t opposed to the sale of liquor or development in general. He’s more upset that so much, very large development is happening so quickly and the university hasn’t effectively communicated what it wants to do.

“What I’d like them to do for now is just stop. Stop the McMobil development, stop whatever they’re trying to do at the site across the street, and instead tell us, in a series of open and honest community forums, what they plan for all of 53rd Street. What’s their comprehensive plan? What do they own and what properties do they plan to buy? What are they going to do with the lot next to where Dunkin Donuts was? … With the rest of the street?“ Panelas said. “I’d like them to give us honest, credible answers to all of these questions and then listen to us. Be willing to scuttle whatever grand plans they have, to change them if the neighborhood objects, and then involve us meaningfully in revising those plans.”