Saturday, June 30, 2018 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || Updated: 10:19 p.m.
Featured image: An aerial view of 2850 Indian Joe Drive, where developers sued to force Broadview officials to grant them the ability to open a strip club. | Google Earth
An 11-year-old conflict that pitted the village of Broadview against a deep-pocked and purposefully obscure group of developers looking to build a strip club may have been resolved once and for all on June 29.
That’s when a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge’s decision to dismiss a request for injunctive relief brought by Chicago Joe’s Tea Room, LLC. and Pervis Conway against the village.
Conway is the owner of 2850 Indian Joe Drive, a nearly 18,000-square-foot building in an industrial area of Broadview that overlooks the Eisenhower Expressway. The building was once owned by a telecommunications firm, Construction-CAD Solutions.
In 2006, Conway contracted to sell the land to David Donahue, who then assigned the land contract to Joseph Inovskis, court records show. Inovskis is listed as the sole manager of Chicago Joe’s Team Room LLC.
In 2007, Inovskis applied for a special-use permit required to operate Chicago Joe’s as a strip club that would sell alcohol in the former industrial building. His request was immediately met with widespread alarm from residents, elected officials and law enforcement officials in Broadview and neighboring suburbs.
“I implore the Zoning Board not to sell our soul for the extra tax dollars this would bring to our village,” said Ray Pelletier, Broadview’s police chief at the time, at a Zoning Board meeting that year, according to a Chicago Tribune report, which added that the chief’s comments prompted a “standing ovation.”
Broadview officials refused to grant the special use permit. According to the village’s zoning ordinance, a strip club is classified as an “adult business,” an establishment that is subject to a variety of restrictions.
When Broadview officials refused to grant the zoning permit in 2007, Chicago Joe’s Tea Room LLC and Conway both filed a lawsuit that year, alleging that Broadview “violated the First Amendment” by not allowing the plaintiffs to use the “property in the manner” they wanted.
A lower court, referencing the village’s ordinances that were in place at the time, initially ruled in favor of Chicago Joe’s, but village officials appealed that decision and implemented tougher zoning laws related to adult businesses, including an amendment to the village’s adult-use setback ordinance — which appeared “aimed solely at Chicago Joe’s,” according to a judge in a lower court.
In March 2016, “based on strengthened village ordinances, a new state statute and the efforts of Fornaro Law,” the court ruled in favor of the village, prohibiting Chicago Joes from operating a strip club where it wanted in the village, representatives with Fornaro Law, the village’s lawyers in the case, noted in a statement at the time.
Since then, the plaintiff’s case had been “solely about monetary damages.” The plaintiffs’ injunction sought compensation for attorney fees and a reported $20 million in damages.
In their June 29 decision to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims, the three-panel Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals described the developers’ attempt to build the strip club as a “tangled record of transactions that seem designed to conceal the real parties in interest and their substantive deals.”
The court’s opinion is consistent with a 2016 WGN news report that pegged Donahue — “a man who flies under the radar” — as the brains behind the proposed strip club development.
“Donahue’s plan is pretty ingenious,” WGN reported. “Find a downtrodden town with loose zoning laws. Squeeze the politics and if they balk, sue the town for violating first amendment rights over stopping his strip club.”
That’s what Donahue did with Polekatz, a strip club he started in southwest suburban Bridgeview. Unlike Broadview, Bridgeview settled and Polekatz “is now up and running, estimated to be worth $8 million.”
WGN reported that Donahue claimed in a court deposition that he only earned $17,000 “yet controls 99 percent of Chicago Joe’s.”
The legal fees for the protracted court fight with Broadview were paid by “an alphabet soup of companies HAR, ELM, OHJ and SBX, which all lead to yet another shadowy figure,” WGN reported. “Donahue admits under oath that Michael Wellek, a convicted tax cheat, loaned him a half-million dollars through these businesses.”
At the zoning meeting in 2007, Inovskis said that the strip club proposed for Broadview would have a capacity of 350, would generate $100,000 in annual property tax revenue and would be “first class” — on par with the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas — the Tribune reported at the time.
The residents of Broadview and nearby Westchester weren’t convinced, the Tribune reported.
“Why do you have to have half-nude individuals be a part of your staff?” Broadview resident Marquetta Smith.
“Others,” the paper reported, “said the club would hurt property values, drain police resources, create lighting and traffic problems and set a negative example for children.”
Broadview Trustee Sherman Jones, who was mayor at the time, told a TV news reporter in 2016 that “90 percent of the people in town are in opposition” to the strip club.
In their June 29 opinion, the federal appellate judges wrote that Broadview’s case was bolstered when, in August 2007, the Illinois legislature passed a law that prohibited any new adult entertainment facilities from locating, constructing or operating “within one mile of the property boundaries of any school, day care center, cemetery, public park, forest preserve, public housing, or place of religious worship located in” suburban Cook County.
“By its terms, the state statute forecloses any attempt to operate a strip club on Conway’s property, and apparently anywhere else in Broadview,” the judges wrote, adding that Chicago Joe’s seems to have decided not to challenge the law.
According to a report by the Cook County Record, Chicago Joe’s stated in a brief that it “will have the opportunity to challenge the state statute once it has overcome the hurdle of the Village’s wrongful denial of its special use permit.”
It appears that the next step, for the plaintiffs, would be the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorneys for Chicago Joe’s could not be contacted on Saturday evening to comment on what, if any, next legal actions they intend to make.
In the meantime, Broadview’s current mayor, Katrina Thompson, is applauding the June 29 decision.
“This is a great victory for the residents of the Village of Broadview and the surrounding community,” Thompson wrote in a Facebook post the day the federal appeals court ruling was issued. VFP
Read the full court opinion below:
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