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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

Prominent Logan Square Landlord Threatens To Sue City Over Zoning Change And Gets His Way — Again

The move involving the Parson's site in Logan Square raises broader questions about whether threats of lawsuits should dictate if city legislation moves forward, an alderman said.

Landlord Mark Fishman (left) threatened to sue the city over a zoning change to the Parson's site in Logan Square.
Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago; Facebook
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LOGAN SQUARE — Prominent Logan Square landlord Mark Fishman has derailed another effort to slow gentrification in booming Logan Square — for the second time this week.

On Tuesday, a key city panel temporarily dropped Fishman’s properties from the Milwaukee Avenue rezoning plan after the landlord threatened to sue. Then, the exact same thing happened to another “downzoning” measure that aims to prevent a large development from being built at the Parson’s Chicken & Fish site at 2952 W. Armitage Ave. if the restaurant were to ever close.

Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), who introduced the Parson’s “downzoning” measure, said he was aiming to fulfill a promise made to neighbors about eight years ago.

In 2012, neighbors with the group Logan Square Preservation approved an “upzoning” at the site under the condition that the Parson’s team revert the restaurant back to its original zoning after the buildout was complete, something owners of the popular chicken spot agreed to.

With the “downzoning” plan, the neighbors’ goal was to prevent someone from stepping in and building a dense development should Parson’s ever close. But Parson’s was built and the site wasn’t “downzoned.”

Peter Toalson, the owner of Parson’s, was on board with the plan, according to emails shared with Block Club. At the time, Parson’s owned part of the land in partnership with Fishman. The landlord also owned part of the business, but doesn’t anymore, a Parson’s rep confirmed.

The neighbors spent the next several years pestering the Parson’s team and local aldermen about it only to be stonewalled. By that point, Fishman had assumed full ownership of the land, which meant Toalson’s hands were tied.

This year, the neighbors were finally able to convince La Spata, who now represents the site, to introduce the “downzoning” measure. The ordinance was on the agenda at Tuesday’s Zoning Committee hearing. But just like he did with the Milwaukee Avenue rezoning plan, Fishman issued a letter threatening to sue the city and La Spata should the “downzoning” move forward.

La Spata then deferred the vote “at the request of the [Lightfoot] administration,” but then criticized the mayor’s office.

“If this administration is not going to let legislation move forward based on someone sending a letter threatening to sue, potentially we could pass nothing in the city of Chicago,” La Spata said.

“The reason we are not bringing this to you today is one of the previous owners within the corporation, outside of all the evidence we’ve received, has voiced his objection to which we are trying to work past and come to an amicable resolution,” he added.

Fishman didn’t respond to requests for comment, but in a letter addressed to Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee, he said “no covenant exists” to “downzone” the property. He said “downzoning” would hurt Parson’s, which is already struggling amid the pandemic.

“Resurrecting a potential zoning issue/red tape for a restaurant surviving the pandemic is unreasonable and punitive,” Fishman said.

But the Parson’s team doesn’t share those concerns.

Toalson, the owner of Parson’s, wasn’t immediately available for an interview, but restaurant spokeswoman Carrie Sloan said in an email, “from an operating standpoint, as far as we know, any changes in zoning should not impact Parson’s in any way.”

‘It’s A Matter Of Credibility’

Part of the Milwaukee Avenue rezoning plan, which was ushered to City Council by Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) after years of gathering community input, was also deferred at Tuesday’s Zoning Committee hearing after Fishman threatened to sue the city.

Fishman and Ramirez-Rosa have long clashed over matters of zoning and development in Logan Square.

In the case of the Parson’s site, both La Spata and the neighbors who pushed the alderman to introduce the “downzoning” measure are disappointed Fishman’s threat has hampered the approval process.

Andrew Schneider, president of Logan Square Preservation, said Fishman’s basis for opposing the “downzoning” measure isn’t grounded in reality.

“Parson’s has been a tremendous asset and a wonderful supporter of our community. I think they’re a fabulous operation. If this was something that would impact them in some way, we would have a discussion with them before ever suggesting it happen,” Schneider said.

Schneider said in the end, this fight is about fulfilling a promise made to the community. If the promise were to be broken, it would set a dangerous precedent around matters of zoning in the community, he said.

“If we can’t show that everyone’s going to engage in good faith, it always makes the next conversation around zoning harder. And it causes people to dig in their heels,” Schneider said.

“Whether you like the ‘downzoning’ or not, it’s a matter of credibility: our credibility going forward and the credibility of the process — the integrity of the whole process.”

La Spata said he expects the “downzoning” measure to go up for a vote at the next Zoning Committee hearing Dec. 15.

But the alderman said he’s disheartened a “baseless claim” derailed the legislation even temporarily.

“In my calls with the administration, they as much admitted this was a baseless claim, that we could know it was baseless and still let it keep the legislation from moving forward,” La Spata said. “That should not be the kind of government we run.”

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