|MONDAY, FEB. 13, 2012||WEDNESDAY, FEB. 8, 2012|
When Stone Park’s village government authorized a new strip club to come to town, officials did more than enhance its reputation as a “sin city” of the western suburbs.
They upset a group of nuns.
Turns out the Stone Park village board approved the project even though the club – which is still under construction and hasn’t yet opened – is adjacent to a convent that includes a complex for elderly and sick nuns, and another building for young women wishing to enter the Roman Catholic sisterhood.
“What are we trying to teach the children in the neighborhood?” said Sister Marissonia Daltoe, whose religious order, the Missionary Sisters of Saint Charles Borromeo – Scalabrinians, occupies the property next to the club that will feature partially nude performers and alcohol.
“Also, our novices, we’re trying to form them to live a religious life, a missionary life, and it’s so ironic that right behind them is this place,” said Daltoe, whose group is based in Rome, historically dedicated to aiding “migrants” and comprised of 800 or so members around the globe.
But beyond moral objections, the nuns are now raising questions about whether the rules were followed properly by Stone Park officials during the 2010 approval process.
Daltoe suspects the club – which is to be called “Get It” – may have been built too close to the nuns’ property line. The club, a green-walled metallic structure, is on the 3800 block of West Lake Street in Stone Park and stands less than two feet from the nuns’ fence line. (The nuns’ land, centered at 37th and Division, is partly in Stone Park, partly in Melrose Park.)
Even more, Daltoe said her group and many neighbors were not properly notified of the project, and only learned about it through the grapevine.
Stone Park officials concede that their practice is to send letters to land owners within 250 feet of projects to let them know about development-related public hearings. But, in the case of the nuns, the village sent notifications to the wrong address because Cook County property records were apparently incorrect, said Stone Park Village Attorney Dean Krone.
“I was upset to learn this, but at that point, there was really nothing we could do,” he said.
Such letters are not required, “that’s something the village has done voluntarily as good practice, and usually it works,” Krone said, adding all other legal requirements were met by village government, including posting notice of the project in a local newspaper. And the club is within an allowable distance to the nuns’ property, the village determined.
“By law everything was done correctly,” said Stone Park Mayor Beniamino Mazzulla, adding that he’s “not a big fan” of the project and only signed on after the village was sued by developers in 2010 and settled the case for undisclosed terms. “I’m stuck with them.”
That lawsuit, among other things, effectively accused associates of the mayor of shaking down the developers of the new club, asking for a cut of the business in exchange for village approval – a charge Mazzulla denies and calls “insulting.”
The suit was filed after village officials initially denied the rezoning that was required for the club to operate at that location. Eventually, after the suit, village officials reversed course.
In any event, a new legal battle could be emerging.
Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico, who knows some of the two dozen nuns at the Missionary Sisters complex, believes “it’s very difficult to zone [adult entertainment establishments] out of existence,” said his spokesman, Gary Mack.
Even so, as “a very devout Roman Catholic,” Serpico is “infuriated” by the location of the strip club and recently asked Melrose Park’s village attorney to “look into this to see if there’s anything we can do to block this thing,” Mack said.
Stone Park has one other strip club – Scores – down the street from the one under construction, and the village has other establishments that offer some form of exotic – although not necessarily nude – dancing, officials said.
Some of Stone Park’s existing nightlife is already within blocks of the nuns’ complex – which opened in the 1940s – and Daltoe blames that clientele for drug needles that have been found at various times in the nuns’ sprawling vegetable garden that directly abuts the new club.
Bob Itzkow, the owner and developer of Get It, said he understands how the nuns might have “moral objections” to his club – which will be a high-tech, high-class “sexually themed” entertainment venue, replete with hologram technology and elaborate shows, “not just a girl on a pole.” (Part of the club, which Itzkow hopes to have open later this year, also will feature male dancers.)
But, Itzkow said he wants to be a good neighbor and has taken huge steps to limit the amount of light and noise stemming from his club, which he thinks is good for the community because it not only is being built on a previously “blighted” site, but stands to bring in lots of revenue to village coffers. Besides, Itzkow said, his business is not changing the “character” of Stone Park.
For decades, the community of more than 5,000 residents has had a seedy underbelly teeming with gambling, prostitution, racy nightspots and organized crime figures – an image Mazzulla said he’s trying to tame.
As for the possibility of legal action, Itzkow said he doesn’t welcome any more trips to court, but if another lawsuit comes, so be it. Melrose Park doesn’t seem to have a right to intervene, he said. And if the Catholic Church ended up suing – the nuns fall under the auspices of the deep-pocketed Archdiocese of Chicago, although Daltoe said she has not contacted anyone there about this matter – Itzkow added: “It would give me so much wanted publicity…I have dreams like that.”
This article was written and reported by Robert Herguth, the BGA’s editor of investigations, and Dane Placko of FOX Chicago News. To contact Herguth, call (312) 821-9030 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.