BURR RIDGE, IL — For six years, a Burr Ridge businessman has used an agreement with the Pace suburban bus agency to demonstrate he can handle parking for expansions in his businesses.

But a lawyer for residents opposing the businessman’s proposed night spot, “Are We Live?,” suggests the agreement is invalid and unconstitutional. Pace is a government agency.

In March 2015, Pace’s then-executive director, T.J. Ross, signed a document granting Capri Ristorante a 10-year “nonexclusive” license for free use of the nearby park-n-ride lot at Lincolnshire and McClintock drives. It can be used for customer parking from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., according to the agreement.

Capri, owned by Filippo “Gigi” Rovito, is barred from assigning the license to another party.

In 2015, Rovito’s then-attorney Gary Grasso, now Burr Ridge’s mayor, referred to the agreement in speaking to the village’s Plan Commission. At the time, Rovito was seeking approval to expand his restaurant’s operations. Grasso used the agreement to respond to parking concerns for Capri, 324 Burr Ridge Parkway, which is in County Line Square.

Grasso said employees would use the Pace lot, but he said valets would not park customers’ cars there, according to meeting minutes. He said the restaurant was concerned that overuse of the Pace lot could lead to problems. (BLU Valet now provides valet service for Capri. Its owner is Michael Grasso, the mayor’s son.)

In an email to Patch on Wednesday, Grasso he was not involved with seeking the 2015 Pace letter. He said the license was revocable. The document states that either party can terminate the agreement by written notice.

“It is not a contract, nor does it bind PACE in any way,” he said.

In an interview Thursday, Pace’s spokeswoman, Maggie Daly Skogsbakken, said the agreement with Capri “originated with the Village of Burr Ridge.”

“I’m assuming the contract is more for our protection if there is any liability, if anything could get damaged or stolen,” she said. “Pace has worked with communities on various requests before and, when we can, we work with communities to help as needed. Community requests are handled on a case-by-case basis.”

She said she wouldn’t call the type of agreement common, but that it wasn’t unusual for one governmental body to assist another.

Patch has yet to find any evidence that the Pace board approved the agreement.

It also is unclear what authority the executive director has to grant a private business free use of public property for 10 years. In a public records request, Patch sought any document that indicated the director has such powers, but the agency’s attorney, Christoper Lyons, declined to provide it.

In an email to Mayor Grasso late last month, Neal Smith, an attorney for neighbors opposing the proposed night spot, said Pace indicated to him that the contract was entered into without the board’s approval and without any other authorization.

“No minutes, resolutions, or records show that the agreement was actually approved by PACE,” Smith said in the email. “In other words, all appearances indicate that the (document) is an invalid contract, and as such it should certainly not be used to justify any zoning decisions made by the Village of Burr Ridge.”

Smith said it appeared the contract allowed private use of public property with no payment involved. That, he said, violated the Illinois constitution, which states, “Public funds, property or credit shall be used only for public purposes.”

Also, the contract, which is in the form of a letter addressed to “Mr. Rovito,” includes two signatures, both of which are blacked out. The contract indicates that the first signature is the executive director’s. The second one only says “president,” leaving unclear who exactly signed it.

The name has been sought by both Smith and Patch, but the agency has not revealed the information. In his email to Grasso, Smith said this secrecy was “prohibiting the public from knowing who actually signed the contract.” Skogsbakken said she would see whether she could get the name.

On Monday, the Burr Ridge Plan Commission is expected to hold a second hearing on the plan for the “Are We Live?” night spot. Availability of parking at County Line Square is likely to be one of the main issues.

Rovito and Smith did not return messages for comment.

Grasso has said he is no longer Rovito’s attorney. But he took up for his former client in April in a piece in Patch. He accused Patch of distorting the proposal for the night spot. And he said the establishment would be a plus for the village.

A plate at Capri is named after the mayor — “Linguini a la Mayor Grasso.” And Rovito gave $5,000 to Grasso’s 2018 ill-fated campaign for attorney general. Grasso returned the money a month later after a TV station’s questions about it. Grasso has declined to say why he gave back the money.

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