Billy Corgan Gets Tea House Sign Approved

The Smashing Pumpkins' frontman put a 44-inch neon sign in front of his Highland Park tea house without permission from the city. The City Council okayed it on Monday.

The City of Highland Park approved the neon sign in front of Billy Corgan's tea shop months after the shop opened.

Madame ZuZu's opened last September in Ravinia. Owned by the Smashing Pumpkins' frontman, the cafe soon began displaying a Corgan-designed, neon sign in the front window, which is prohibited by Highland Park city code, according to The Highland Park News. The sign is 44-inches tall.

Instead of asking for a presentation for the variance request, the Highland Park City Council unanimously approved it at Monday night's meeting, according to The Tribune. Moments later, Mayor Nancy Rotering thanked Corgan for opening the tea house in Highland Park.

In a letter to Patch, blogger Bob Levi wondered why the variance was approved so quickly. 

"Let's say that after I open [a hypothetical retail store] I install a four-foot by 13-foot neon sign that covers over 50 percent of the window rather than the regulated 10 percent," Levi said. "My guess is that I'd be given a certain number of days to take the sign down or be fined. I doubt if I'd get a hug by the mayor."

Levi wondered if Corgan's celebrity status got him unfair treatment.

"Shouldn't he be treated the same way as anyone?" Levi asked. "Maybe I'm naive, but it's another example of rules and laws not being applied equally."

City Councilwoman Sally Higginson told Patch there was no special treatment for Corgan.

"There was no discussion of 'He's Billy Corgan, let's do whatever he wants.'" Higginson said. She then added, with a laugh, "but we would have loved to have heard him sing at the council meeting... that would have been special."

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Curious Reader January 17, 2013 at 09:00 PM
Probably easier to give in and allow this eyesore of a sign because the business most likely won't last long. Poor service, high prices, mediocre tea. The establishment is a fading fancy. Locals patronize the place in order to say they've hobnobbed at a celeb joint. Very high school behavior.
Walter White January 17, 2013 at 10:37 PM
Hey Sally what was approved quicker the sign or the tax levi?
David Lee January 17, 2013 at 10:53 PM
So much for City credibity and transparancy! I'm all for helping out local businesses ... but it would be nice if everyone had to play by the same rules and all. Cronyism in Highland Park seems to have survived the new mayor and City Manager quite well.
Moe @ the Buck January 17, 2013 at 11:48 PM
That's one ugly sign. Oops, that's just a picture of Billy. Me and Billy have alot in common, we both have a face for radio, or so my Ma says. Keep up the good work Billy and forget the haters. Most are just jealous that your a freakin rock star.
David Greenberg January 18, 2013 at 02:26 AM
It would seem that the laws and rules of the City are enforced arbitrarily yet again. Wolter's Field Light Towers - no way they could get a Zoning Variance, so they changed course and went for a Special Use Permit which was granted even after the DRC and Zoning Board said no. Rosewood Beach - clearly didn't meet the requirements laid out by the NRC or DRC. City gave the go-ahead despite that. Tea House - just puts up a clearly non-conforming sign, and asks if it's OK after the fact. Somehow it gets approved. Gotta wonder if it'd be OK if everyone decided to just start ignoring all the laws, and use these three prior events as precedence... If the City wants to go and change the laws - fine. Notify the Public, Hold the hearings, represent the wishes of the Public, and go from there. If the Public wants to change the law and the City agrees, then we change the laws. But these seemingly arbitrary waivers don't pass the smell test.
MS January 18, 2013 at 12:51 PM
Just don't take down a tree, because then there would be hell to pay.
E January 18, 2013 at 01:48 PM
wow is this a corrupt city council. what good are rules and laws if they are not enforced? the sign is an eyesore that is distracting for drivers and out of place for Ravinia - and breaks the law. kudos for the new cafe, but this star struck city council once again has gone too far and joins the park district in ineptitude, graft, and general smarminess. where is the transparency? we should impeach the board for this callous abuse of power. shame on you Rotering. the voters in HP will remember this.
Bob Levi January 18, 2013 at 02:33 PM
I copied the Patch editor on an email I sent to the mayor and city council yesterday. Only one person gave me the coutesy of responding. It was sort of a non-response and stated, "The sign ordinance in Highland Park includes within in its text, grounds that are to be considered in determining whether to grant a variance. Those grounds are broad." What grounds were considered by the City Council if there was no staff report and discussion on the issue? All three accounts I read stated that the City Council agreed to the varience without heqring the staff report and with no discussion. Just wondering. The City has historically granted sign variances in a number of circumstances.
Moe @ the Buck January 18, 2013 at 02:38 PM
After seeing the actual sign, and not just the pictures of ol'billy, I think It's great. Now other business owners finally have a chance to do similar signs.
Bob Levi January 18, 2013 at 02:46 PM
Moe: Do you think you or I could get a sign veriance after we opened our store? Highly unlikely.
Moe @ the Buck January 18, 2013 at 05:37 PM
Neither you or I could ever do that. Then again, that's just how the world goes round. Also, I know he's famous and all, but not that famous. I mean, It's not like "Snoop Lions Chicken and Waffles" has come to town and everyone's flocking there. Speaking of chicken and Waffles. Jennifer Fisher "The Great Gazoo" where are you? When are you going to tell us about the upcoming "Chicago Chicken and Waffles" on Dempster near McCormick?
Tom Lamonda January 18, 2013 at 09:21 PM
Two chances of anyone else getting a similar sign...slim and none.
Jill Goldstein January 18, 2013 at 10:29 PM
I think the sign is great. It gives flair to what was a lack luster business district. What a bunch of curmudgeons!
Bob Levi January 18, 2013 at 11:13 PM
Jill,, Glad to see you love Madame Zuzu's sign. I guess you have no respect for the laws in HP either. Maybe there's not enough enforcement of existing ordinances Thanks for the complement. No one has called me a curmudgeon in a long while. Is that another term for law-abiding citizen? I guess I don't have the kind of clout that makes our fine city what it is today. Hope you teach your kids to respect laws and explain why they're on the books. Of course, they may grow up to be Congressmen or Senators and that's a different situation entirely.
Moe @ the Buck January 18, 2013 at 11:34 PM
Come on Jill, stop being a cotton-headed-ninny-muggins. Bobs just trying to bring fairness and transparency to the city and all business owners. I'm sorry I called you a cotton-headed-ninny-muggins. We shouldn't call anyone names. I love you guys,man. I'll see you guys at the Buck tonight. Billy, your invited too,guy. Bring your guitar.
Stu Pidasso January 19, 2013 at 05:11 AM
Who is one of the TOP 5 residential property taxpayers in HP?? Take a guess ;), and I still agree all should be held to the same sign ordinances...
Bob Levi January 19, 2013 at 03:16 PM
I wonder what the city staff report to the City Council (that was never read at the recent meeting) recommended? Can one obtain the report through a Freedom of Information request? Just wonderin' BTW - I received a phone call from someone on the City Council? I was told that the City needs to review its enforcement programs. The only point made about the signage ordinace and the varience given to Mr. Corgan was that the law has a great deal of flexibility. It was admitted that the Mayor and City Council should not have acted as rashly as they did. (I guess you can't take back what has already been done. Politica works in strange ways!)
Bryce Robertson January 19, 2013 at 05:23 PM
No FOIA request necessary, just check out the city council's agenda packet, which is available on their website. Staff reporting recommended that the council consider and approve the variance, as well as directing Corp Counsel to prep an ordinance allowing the variance. The council is expected to read all documents in the agenda packet, so if they had no questions and agreed with the recommendation, no need to waste everyone's time. Celebrity or not, Billy took over a dilapidated, vacant space in downtown Ravinia and turned it into a local "hot spot". I wish we had more of those in downtown HP.
MisterE January 20, 2013 at 12:05 AM
Granted, any new establishment is better than another spa, nail salon, dry cleaners, but calling this a local hot spot is hilarious. Methinks you must've walked into the barbecue joint down the block. The only reason the place gets business is that Java Love closed.
Tony Scrivener January 26, 2013 at 11:09 PM
Good luck to Billy with his venture. Being creative I guess will sometimes clash with the commercial, but it's something we have to deal with. Retail outlets should be given more freedom esp in these times of the internet and a sliding economy.
Sue Roses January 27, 2013 at 09:22 PM
I agree totally. It is not about the whether the sign is nice or not, but how the rules are applied. There have been numerous businesses that have inadvertently broken a sign code, were called on it, and had to go to the added expense of replacing it, some with less padding in their pockets than Mr . Corgan . Either change the codes or apply them equally . The exceptions seem to only be made for those who appear to be in the inside . This perception will only hurt the community in the long term .


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