- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2012

On one side of the fence are women in habits and wimples who have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

On the other side of that fence, if a developer gets his way, will be women in G-strings in the business of nudity, dollars and prurience.

The scene for the clash between these two competing visions of femininity is a retirement home for nuns in Chicago’s western suburbs, which is scheduled to have soon as a neighbor a giant $3 million strip club.

Get It gentlemen’s club is on track to open this spring in the 5,000-resident village of Stone Park, Ill., just feet from the Missionary Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo’s retirement home.

“When you come out of the back of the chapel, you can see the facility,” said Peter Breen, executive director of the Thomas More Society. “When they have given their entire lives to teach those children of Stone Park — after a lifetime of service to their faith — these sisters’ reward in their retirement years is to be in constant view of the large pornographic palace.”

Opponents of the club have a public vigil scheduled, and the Thomas More Society hopes to use a state “buffer zone” law to prevent the club from opening after, they claim, the village rolled over to the big developer on local zoning laws that could have prevented the club.

According to its owner, Get It will be more than a beer-shots-and-pole establishment, instead offering professional-level topless dancing in a high-tech environment comparable to the famous burlesques of Paris.

“We are Lido for the 21st century,” club owner Robert Itzkow said in an interview with the “Roe & Roeper” radio show on WLS-890 AM. “A strip club we are not.”

He said his club will be a good neighbor, both to the nuns and the rest of the townsfolk, explaining his building has been soundproofed and its lighting set up so as not to affect the nuns next door.

Dancers will be partially clothed and perform burlesque in a venue that features a Cirque du Soleil-style trapeze, Mr. Itzkow said, adding that he also plans to landscape the rear of the building, which is nearest the nuns’ home, with 20-foot-high trees that will shield the two establishments from each other’s view.

But in a public statement, Mr. Itzkow called the sisters of the convent his “non-taxpaying neighbors” and accused them of religious intolerance.

“As a legal, tax-paying citizen of this community, we ask only to be judged fairly by what we have done and not through the recent religious fervor,” Mr. Itzkow said. “You treat us as we have treated you, by not trying to unduly disturb us by imposing your religious beliefs on us or others. All throughout our plans for this project, we’ve followed the letter and spirit of the law.”

Several of the nuns have spoken out against the club in stories that have received front-page attention in Chicago.

They have said that when they asked about the construction project, they were told it was a restaurant — not a temple to nudity and lust.

“We are religious. We espouse certain beliefs. As Catholic religious, we take vows and we have something like this, totally opposite, going on. It’s not safe,” Sister Marissonia Daltoe told Chicago Fox-TV affiliate WFLD.

There are legal issues, too, said attorneys with the Thomas More Society, a Catholic group.

Mr. Breen told the Stone Park Village Board that his public-interest law firm has identified a state law that calls for a 1-mile “buffer zone” between adult entertainment facilities and “places of worship.”

He argued that the location of the Get It club next to the nuns’ home is therefore not legal and that construction on the business must be stopped.

His organization has offered the village free legal help in opposing Mr. Itzkow, but thus far it has not taken the offer.

“We contend that state law is pretty clear,” he said. “That the 1,000 feet [buffer zone] applies. We’ve asked the village for an interim step to put a hold on the permit process and take some time to examine the state law. The village doesn’t want to do it. We really want to see very concrete actions.”

The town will allow Mr. Breen’s attorneys through Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIA) to keep daily track of the permit process in advance of the club’s opening, which is on track for sometime this spring.

Mr. Breen said town residents also are “very much upset,” noting that “even apart from the religious aspect, there are literally residential homes that back up to that facility. There is a swing set right next to it.”

The club has been in dispute with the city for more than two years. Twice the village’s board voted against it, but Mr. Itzkow filed a lawsuit, arguing that zoning laws allowed him to build there.

He also accused town officials of a shakedown, demanding money and a cut of the profits in exchange for the right to build his club.

The lawsuit was later settled in 2010, with town leaders granting permission to build and saying the legal expense to fight the club was financially prohibitive.

Within the settlement agreement, the town’s own buffer-zone-ordinance restrictions, between adult entertainment establishments and schools, parks, churches, and residential areas, were voided, actions that Mr. Breen calls the village “giving away the store.”

Others in this blue-collar community, struggling to shake off its seedy past, which has included prostitution, gambling and alleged mob activity, are outraged by Mr. Itzkow’s venture.

A candlelight vigil is planned for Thursday as area residents take to the street in protest.

Stone Park Mayor Ben Mazzula did not return a call for comment on the dispute.

Mr. Breen said his group does not plan to give up its defense of the sisters’ professed right to live without exposure to such a business.

“If the facility is not legal under state law, they still have to enforce state law,” he said of the village. “We argue convincingly that the contract is voidable because it makes no sense that one would waive and repeal numerous local ordinances, the constitutionality of which had not been challenged” in the lawsuit.