STONE PARK, Ill.—At the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo convent, the nuns are angry. In fact, they fighting mad that a strip club may be opening "mere inches from the convent fence, and about 100 feet from a portion of the facility used as a retirement home by the religious order," according to a report by WBBM Newsradio's Bob Roberts. They've even enlisted the Catholic legal group The Thomas More Society (TMS) to try to get the club's opening, currently scheduled for Monday, blocked.
The controversy started about two years ago, when Stone Park officials rezoned the area to allow adult businesses to open there, but really heated up in February of this year when the owners of the club, Get It, began construction of the reported $3 million building on their Lake Street property... and the nuns caught wind of it and, together with about 200 local citizens, mounted a protest march.
The nuns claim they were never informed of the zoning change, and the town's attorney, Dean Krone, admitted that the letter telling local residents about the plans for the club and the public hearing regarding it was sent to the wrong address. However, the city council denied the club's permit application anyway, and the owners had to take the city to court to get that decision reversed.
Though Stone Park apparently has a long history of being home to bootleggers and mobsters, its current mayor, Benjamino Mazzulla, told the Chicago Sun-Times that he was trying to upgrade the town's image, lawmakers apparently went too far, and the likely reason for the rezoning was that the city at some point had effectively "zoned out" adult businesses, which as far as federal law is concerned is a no-no.
The details of Get It's suit against the city are shrouded in secrecy; no one from the club is speaking, and a representative of Stone Park told WBBM that if they wanted to know where the permitting and licensing for the club stood, it would have to file a FOIA request. Indeed, when AVN inquired of some of the top First Amendment attorneys in the area that handle club matters, we were told that there had been no discussion of the Get It situation among the First Amendment Lawyers Association, and that no one knew which attorney was handling the matter for the club.
However, according to an account given by TMS attorney Peter Breen to OneNewsNow, a Christian "news" service, several years ago, Stone Park was sued by the club's developers, alleging that city officials and those affiliated with them "tried to shake down the developer for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and a stake in the ownership in exchange for allowing the facility to be built."
"The village quickly settled the lawsuit," Breen said, "and in the settlement agreement, the village agreed to wipe off the books numerous ordinances that protected residents, churches, schools, parks, and others from being within a thousand feet of such uses"—which would certainly lend credence to the "zone-out" theory.
Another possible stumbling block to the club's opening is that one side of the club is just across the alley from the city limits of Melrose Park, another residential suburb, and its mayor, Ronald Serpico, said he was "shocked and sickened by the placement of an adult entertainment business immediately adjacent to residential areas of Melrose Park."
Breen wrote to Krone and the club's owner, Robert Itzkow, to argue that the presence of three chapels on the convent's property put the club in violation of a state law requiring a one-mile "buffer zone" between adult businesses and "places of worship," but such a massive "set-back" would likely be found unconstitutional if taken to court—and at press time, no court action has yet been taken by TMS to stop the opening.