Chicago aldermen gave preliminary approval Monday to a plan that would make it tougher for a business to be reopened at a spot where there have been past problems with illegal activities.
The city also would be able to more quickly bring in the owner of a store where residents have reported problems like drug dealing or gang activity to try to get the owner to shape up or risk losing the business license. And business operators would have greater responsibility for the activities of patrons after they leave the store.
Though the city already has various rules on the books to try to curb crime around stores, Far South Side Ald. Anthony Beale said the ordinance needs more teeth, particularly to deal with problems with people congregating in and around 24-hour gas stations.
“Nobody wants to hurt business, but when business is hurting the community we have a responsibility to step forward to see what we can do to give our community some relief when we have these business owners who are in their stores behind 2 inches of glass,” said Beale, 9th. “And they’re shielded from the activities that are hurting our community, but yet they’re making money around the clock.”
Under the proposal the License Committee backed, anyone who wants to reopen a store at a location where the city determined a problem business was operating within the past three years would need to agree to abide by rules that could include limits on hours of operation in order to stop criminal activity from cropping up there again. City attorney Rose Kelly said that’s to try to prevent the practice of family members taking over for one another when the city starts to crack down on them.
“Right now, when a business is closed down for any reason, the license is revoked, it’s called ‘license flipping,'” Kelly said. “The next day the cousin opens up in the store, the brother or whatever. They open up and it’s right back in operation.”
Kelly said the new rules will also give landlords an added incentive to make sure the stores operating in their buildings are good citizens, because it will be tough for them to lease the property if the next store operator has to enter into an agreement with the city tied to the address.
The measure would allow business owners to agree to a “corrective action” plan with the city when problems crop up instead of the city going ahead with a lengthy official complaint process that could end with the business getting shut down.
Failure to live up to any of the standards in a “corrective action” plan with the city would lead to daily fines of $200 to $1,000, or revocation of the license.
Tanya Triche, spokeswoman for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, spoke in favor of the idea of allowing license holders to meet with the city to form a plan to deal with problems. But Triche said her members are alarmed by language in the ordinance making business owners responsible for “objectionable conditions” caused by patrons loitering on property near their stores.
“Certainly in the incidence of a business that does not sell alcohol, that’s a convenience store, and someone comes in and buys some snacks, and then they go next door to the empty lot that that business owner doesn’t own, rent, lease or use, and then illegal activity occurs — gunshots, drug sales, single cigarette sales, whatever it is — certainly that has an impact on the community, but that isn’t necessarily under the control of the business owner who sold the snacks,” Triche said.
Ald. Latasha Thomas, 17th, said she wanted to toughen the loitering rules in part because of a store in her South Side ward that sells liquor to people who then pull furniture into a nearby vacant lot where they sell drugs and engage in other illegal activity.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel supports the ordinance, according to a spokeswoman. The full City Council is scheduled to consider it Wednesday.
Copyright © 2014, Chicago Tribune
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