Aldermen mull proposal on business licenses


A city ordinance would give aldermen more authority over the issuance of business licenses, and some Northwest Side aldermen are weighing the merits of the proposal.

The ordinance reportedly is designed in part to enlist the help of aldermen in identifying businesses which have caused nuisances in their wards and which are seeking a license under a different name. The ordinance would put in place a formal process for aldermanic input.

Northwest Side aldermen John Arena (45th), Anthony Napolitano (41st) and Margaret Laurino (39th) are seeking additional information and feedback on the proposal before taking a stance on it, while Alderman Nicholas Sposato (38th) said that he opposes the proposal.

"The alderman has some serious concerns about the ordinance and wants to learn more. In the past, Alderman Arena has been very supportive of measures making it easier for small businesses to navigate the city licensing process.

"This seems like a step backwards in that effort, but we’re trying to learn more about what motivated this proposal," Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said.

Alderman Gilbert Villegas (36th), Emma Mitts (37th) and Chris Taliaferro (29th) are the local aldermen who are co-sponsors of the proposal, which was introduced in March to the City Council.

"For far too long aldermen like myself have been blamed for bad decisions for the neighborhood. My colleagues get blamed for every pawn shop and dollar store. However, the truth is that we have very little oversight of most businesses.

"If a pawn shop wants to move in next to another pawn shop, there is a good chance they never have to seek the approval of the alderman. This ordinance changes that. This ordinance gives the alderman and the community a voice," Villegas said. Villegas was recently elected to be the chairman of the city Latino Caucus.

Currently, aldermen receive notice of business applications, but there is "very little time, if any, between the notice and the issuance of the license, unless it is a new liquor license," Brugh said.

Aldermen would have 20 days to make a recommendation on applications for new licenses and renewals under the ordinance. If no action is taken, it would be assumed that an alderman supports the application.

The city Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection would take the alderman’s input into consideration before making a decision on whether to approve the application. In addition, some zoning classifications require certain businesses, such as taverns and liquor stores, to obtain a special use permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Sposato said that the ordinance could pressure business owners to get on the good side of their alderman by making a contribution to their campaign fund. "I like it the way it is," he said. "I don’t want the perception that I’m doing it (recommending a license) for a bribe."

The consumer protection department has a deleterious impact program in which the operator of a problem business attends meetings with residents and the local alderman to address concerns, including the selling of expired food or overflowing garbage cans.