Neighbors – both Oak Parkers and Chicagoans — angry about a fifth pawn shop that opened earlier this year on the 6400 block of North Avenue say they’re not giving up their fight to get the business shut down, despite a court ruling throwing out their lawsuit.
Chicago Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th) and residents of his ward, who jointly sued to shut down EZ Pawn at 6432 W. North Ave., were dealt a setback last week when Chancery Court Judge Moshe Jacobius dismissed the lawsuit because no one living within 250 feet of the then-proposed pawn shop testified against it at a January Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals meeting when the business was issued a special use permit.
Members of the Northwest Side Community Coalition, which formed earlier this year in opposition to the pawn shop, say they plan to file a motion to reconsider because, they say, the case was thrown out on a technicality.
While there are pawn shops in Oak Park, including on North Avenue, the village has capped new business licenses for such uses.
Michael Nardello, president of the NCC, said in an interview that resident Greg Roberts, along with about 45 other residents of the area, appeared at the January zoning meeting with a petition signed by 300 others opposed to the zoning change. But since Roberts, the only person in attendance living within 250 feet of the business, did not testify personally that it could hurt his property value it was determined that no one else had legal standing to oppose it.
“We were given formal instruction [at the zoning board meeting] that any duplication that appeared on [written statements] were not going to be read if someone had discussed the matter, so certainly Mr. Roberts felt those items had been discussed before it was his turn,” Nardello said. “It was kind of set up so he wasn’t able to talk.”
Ald. Sposato, who attended the January zoning meeting, said ZBA officials “were adamant about not being repetitive.”
Sposato said he believes that the rule requiring opponents to live within 250 feet of a proposed zoning change to have legal standing “is just silly.”
“I don’t necessarily know that the judge knew what he was talking about,” Sposato said in a telephone interview.
“You could be 500 feet away and it’s not going to affect you?” he asked sarcastically.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that redistricting of Chicago’s aldermanic wards, which takes effect in 2015, will put the pawn shop in the ward of 29th Ward Ald. Deborah Graham, who supported the pawn shop proposal.
Sposato said Graham, who wrote a letter to the ZBA supporting the zoning change, told him prior to the ZBA meeting that she didn’t necessarily support the pawn shop but she did support ABC Bank, which owns the strip mall where the pawn shop is located. Graham could not be reached for comment.
Larry Andolino, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the group has 30 days to file a motion to reconsider the decision. The case then will go back before Jacobius for reconsideration where he will argue that Roberts does have standing to oppose the ZBA decision, although he did not testify at the meeting.
If Jacobius returns the same decision, the plaintiffs then could file an appeal, which could be heard by a different judge, Andolino said.
He acknowledged that continuing with the lawsuit could be a losing battle.
“It’s really tough to overturn [a ZBA] decision; it’s very rare that happens, but we’re doing the best we can,” he said.
Members of the NCC said at a recent meeting that they believe the preponderance of pawn shops along the Chicago-side of that stretch of North Avenue scares away businesses such as restaurants and coffee shops, which they say would be an asset to the neighborhood.
“We know from talking with people who have evaluated North Avenue as a business location that even though vacancies are bad, certain kinds of businesses are worse, and we know that businesses like the pawn shop scare businesses away,” said Judith Alexander an Oak Park resident and member of the North Avenue Neighbors Association, which has teamed up with NCC to fight the pawn shop. “We want to turn things around by getting good businesses here and also supporting the good businesses that are already here.”