Suit: Alderman Violated Civil Rights of Former Double Door Landlord

Brian Strauss, the former landlord of the shuttered Double Door music venue, has filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that Ald. Joe Moreno (1st) violated his civil rights by using threats and political intimidation against him in a personal vendetta over the eviction of the club. 

The suit, filed Thursday in federal court, also names the city of Chicago and the Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards as defendants. 

Strauss seeks more than $9.6 million in damages, according to the filing.

The Double Door, which operated as a music venue and bar at 1572 N. Milwaukee Ave. until the owners were evicted in February, hosted the likes of the Rolling Stones and Smashing Pumpkins. 

The building has been owned by the Strauss family for nearly 40 years, according to the suit. In 2015, Strauss claimed Door Door had violated its lease, initiating a legal battle that concluded with the club being shuttered and the locks changed earlier this year. 

According the suit, the building has been zoned as a B3-2 property since 1974, which allowed the owners to rent the street-level space as commercial property. 

Strauss claims Moreno “had a personal and financial relationship” with Double Door’s owners and introduced a zoning change in April 2015 before the zoning committee “in an effort to keep his friends at Double Door as tenants in Strauss’s building.” 

The zoning change, from B3-2 to B3-1, would have allowed Strauss fewer options as to who he could rent the space to, constituted illegal spot zoning and was meant to significantly reduce building’s property value, the suit said. 

In a private meeting on Feb. 8 at City Hall — two days after Double Door was evicted — Strauss said David L. Reifman, commissioner for the Department of Planning and Development, tried to broker a deal for Strauss to sell the building to Double Door’s owners — a suggestion rejected by both parties. 

At that meeting, Strauss said Moreno used “subtle threats” to warn him that if he did not allow Double Door back into the space, he would be subject to a long and expensive zoning process and that the space could remain vacant for years. 

On Feb. 25, Moreno and Strauss were involved in a videotaped confrontation outside the former Double Door location in which Moreno told him, “I’m gonna have inspectors in here on a daily basis, you watch” and, “It’s gonna be an empty building with no income for you or your family,” according to the suit. 

Due to the potential downzoning, Strauss said a potential buyer of the building for $9.6 million walked away from the deal, according to the suit. Struass said he’s been “conservatively” losing $35,000 a month in rent for the former Double Door space since March 1 as potential renters will not sign a lease because the building’s zoning could be downgraded. 

As recently as June, Strauss said, Moreno proposed to downzone the property to RS-3, typical of areas with detached houses on individual lots.

“Instead of rejecting both of Moreno’s downzoning proposals regarding Strauss’ property, neither of which offers any benefit to the public, the zoning committee assisted and continues to assist Moreno in his vindictive and irresponsible attack against an innocent lan owner who refused to let Moreno’s evicted friends back into the building,” the suit alleges.

Representatives for Moreno and the city did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the suit late Thursday.

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