Arguing that his First Amendment rights were violated, a Forest Park man filed a federal complaint against the village last week in the wake of being denied a business license to open a strip club. Ken DeGori is alleging that an overly restrictive municipal ordinance regulating sexually explicit businesses has caused him financial harm, in addition to stripping him of his constitutional rights.
The federal complaint, filed Feb. 25, names the municipality and Mayor Anthony Calderone as defendants. DeGori’s application for a business license was denied in December.
“The effect of this ordinance is to forbid the operation of ‘sexually explicit businesses’ within the village of Forest Park, including at [DeGori’s] proposed business location of 7865-7975 Industrial Drive …” the complaint states, in part.
DeGori originally applied for a business license Nov. 7, to open what would have been the first nude bar in Forest Park. At the time, the municipality had adopted no regulations with respect to sexually explicit businesses and leaned on a state law that prohibits such establishments from opening within one mile of schools, churches, cemeteries and other protected areas. But about three weeks after DeGori submitted his application, the village council voted unanimously to amend local zoning codes and regulate adult entertainment.
Village officials said that the local ordinance was necessary because it is unconstitutional to put an outright ban on topless bars, cabarets and other similar establishments. Given Forest Park’s size of about two square miles, the state regulations could be construed as an unconstitutional ban, which would give a judge the authority to force the village to allow a sexually explicit club.
Without a local ordinance designating where such venues may operate, village officials said that scenario would allow DeGori – or any applicant – to open a nude bar at any number of locations throughout Forest Park.
As amended, the local zoning code now sets aside specific neighborhoods as appropriate locations for such venues. However, village officials expressly excluded the proposed location of DeGori’s business from its Sexually Oriented Business Overlay District.
“The village acted in bad faith and with the specific intent of depriving plaintiff, in particular, of its freedom of speech, including by circulating memoranda to the village zoning board of appeals with scripted questions … to create the appearance of a disinterested review,” alleges the suit, filed by DeGori’s attorney, Lawrence Byrne.
The Industrial Drive property eyed by DeGori is owned by Chris Wessels, who operates a nearby construction firm at 1800 Desplaines Ave. Wessels was a co-applicant on the November request for a business license, but is not a party to the federal lawsuit. A separate court filing recognizes DeGori as the only plaintiff. DeGori filed the suit under an LLC named for the address of his proposed nightclub.
On the same day DeGori filed his suit in U.S. District Court, he resubmitted his application to open a topless bar on Industrial Drive, according to court records. DeGori is also seeking an injunction from the court to prevent the village from taking action on the application.
Village Administrator Mike Sturino declined to comment on the suit and said he has not yet discussed the complaint with the village attorney. Sturino also would not confirm any details of DeGori’s latest request for a business license, stating such information is exempt from public disclosure because of the pending litigation.
Wessels declined to comment on whether he is a co-applicant.
DeGori and his attorney, Byrne, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.