City shoots down Calhoun Square signs, but they’re going up anyway

Here's one way to get what you want from government -- even if the City Council shoots you down.

Ray Harris, a managing partner at Calhoun Square, wants to put up some new lighted signs above the mall's entrances -- along with the Figlio's and Famous Dave's signs -- for three relatively new eateries: Jimmy John's, Caruso's and Sushi Tango.

Six months ago, Harris says, he applied with the city to put up the signs, but the applications went nowhere in the Zoning Department. Steve Poor, a Zoning Department supervisor, acknowledges that Harris applied for the permits then.

However, Poor said a zoning inspector initially told Harris that under revamped 1999 signage ordinances, the mall had no more available sign space and would need a special zoning variance to add any new ones. Poor said Harris never pursued a variance.

Instead, Harris approached Councilmember Dan Niziolek (10th Ward), seeking a special council permit to raise the signs.

Special council permits are frowned upon because they circumvent the applications process. The four attorneys on the current council have declared that they will never vote for them because of their questionable legality.

Niziolek said he usually sides with special permit opponents, but he saw this one differently.

"The only time I will vote for a special council permit is if it does not override a city ordinance," Niziolek said. "If it's an interim (measure), which is what I was proposing here, I don't have a problem supporting it."

Schiff and five other councilmembers killed the Calhoun Square request in a 6-6 vote.

Schiff said, "There's supposed to be a public hearing for sign variances, the neighborhoods are supposed to be notified, and the Zoning Board of Adjustment is invested with the power under the city charter to make these decisions. Niziolek basically said [Calhoun Square] didn't want to wait that long."

Strangely, it turned out to be much ado about nothing.

Poor now says that the inspector who talked to Harris six months ago miscalculated; Calhoun Square actually does have just enough available space under city rules to put up the three new signs. He's free to put them up any time he wants to.

A spokeswoman at Calhoun Square said last week that the mall is preparing to raise the new, colorful lighted restaurant signs.