Lawrence, Weisner square off over Restaurant Row
By Stephanie lulay email@example.com February 27, 2013 6:02PM
Updated: April 1, 2013 11:50AM
AURORA — Although he abstained from voting on a previous Restaurant Row deal because he owns a neighboring property, Alderman Rick Lawrence voted against the latest proposal for the downtown block this week.
During a discussion ahead of the City Council’s vote on the new financial plan for Restaurant Row Tuesday night, City Attorney Alayne Weingartz told Lawrence that he needed to publicly state why he now wished to vote on the matter when he had abstained from voting on the same properties in December 2009.
Lawrence owns a building at 41 W. New York St. The Restaurant Row deal approved by the council involves properties at 29, 31, 33 and 35 W. New York St. in the city’s downtown.
“If (Lawrence) is going to speak on the matter with the intent to vote, he needs to explain to the council in all fairness... what has changed that would allow him to speak and/or vote at this time,” Weingartz said.
Lawrence said he cast other council votes relating to Ballydoyle, a restaurant across the street from the Restaurant Row properties, and other projects near his property. “The reason that I did abstain the last time is because I didn’t feel like getting into this argument with corporate counsel. And you brought lawyers in from Chicago and everything else to make a much bigger issue out of this than it needed to be,” Lawrence said.
In this case, Lawrence said he has an obligation to speak when something is “amiss with tax dollars.”
Mayor Tom Weisner interrupted Lawrence, reminding him that now was the time to explain his position on voting.
“You (previously) abstained... and you are not supposed to abstain unless you have a reason or a conflict. You are now saying that you had one then that you don’t have now,” Weisner said.
Lawrence said that he did not have a conflict then, but it wasn’t worth getting into an argument with city attorneys because the deal was “going to pass 11 to 1 anyway.”
“I see, so you were persecuted,” Weisner responded. “... I think that’s interesting. It typically is always worth the argument with you, Mr. Lawrence.”
The council voted 9-1 to approve two tax increment financing agreements — one with developer Vernon LaVia, and another authorizing the city to buy a neighboring property on Restaurant Row. The more than $1 million in TIF money paves the way for Batavia-based Italian restaurant Aliano’s to open along the street.
Lawrence said he knows “this area better than anybody and I know what we’re not being told in this (deal). They say they won’t sell 31-33 (W. New York) unless we get them out of debt for debts that they incurred. That has nothing to do with this project. So they’re blackmailing us to get another owner out of debt.”
Weisner said Lawrence’s explanation of abstaining in 2009 was unclear.
“I think that Mr. Lawrence’s explanation that he didn’t vote because he thought he was being picked on is not really ... an adequate explanation for not voting then,” the mayor said.
Lawrence is leaving his 4th Ward council seat to square off against incumbent Alderman at-large Bob O’Connor in the April election. O’Connor said Tuesday night that he objected to Lawrence’s use of the word “blackmail.”
“We try to make decisions based upon the issues in front of us, not subject to all sorts of ‘supposed’ pressures. That is the case as far as I’m concerned, and I think this is true as far as all of my colleagues on the council,” O’Connor said.