A group of friends who meet regularly at Bar Louie in Mount Prospect saw a property available nearby that they couldn't resist.
The price was right, so Nat Caputo, Sam Chiovari, Louie Ruffalo and Tony Dugo bought the former Pearle Vision property at 211 E. Rand Road with the idea of putting in a cigar lounge and calling it Havana Joe's.
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What they didn't count on was the need to rezone the site for retail use, a process that has brought out opposition from the business' potential neighbors.
The Mount Prospect village board opened discussions Tuesday on a petition to rezone the property from business office to community shopping. The village's planning and zoning commission already recommended against the change, after residents raised concerns about noise and smoke.
Among those attending Tuesday's meeting were supporters of the project wearing yellow T-shirts reading "We Support Havana Joe's," and opponents from the neighboring Maple Crest subdivision.
Havana Joe's attorney, Michael Alesia, described the business as an upscale cigar store serving both the lounging and carryout trade.
"People can walk in and buy a cigar and take it with them, or they can buy a whole box and give it as a gift or they can sit down in a comfy couch and have a cigar," Alesia said.
"We want to be like Starbucks," not "a place for yahoos to goof around," he added.
The smoke, he said, would run through a filtration system that would collect it and turn it into clean air before it's released. There would be a buffer between the business and neighboring subdivision that would include an existing fence, a stand of trees and a new fence.
But residents said the buffer would do little to keep noise from the business out of their neighborhood.
"They already hear the Bar Louie sounds coming through on late nights and weekends," said resident Habib Bilfaqi. "It's a fence. It's not a wall. The air's going to go where the air's going to go."
Resident David Romanelli said the cigar lounge would set a bad example for youth, showing them that "smoking is something that's proper and good, that you can be refined and smoke.
"Your endorsement of the petitioner would be an endorsement of smoking and an endorsement of cancer," he added. "And it would send a wrong signal to our children."
Matt Senchuk defended Caputo, of Joe Caputo and Sons grocery, and his partners.
"They, as well, are against the underaged consumption of tobacco," Senchuk said. "They're not trying to force this lifestyle onto anybody. They're simply trying to bring a certain niche business into our community."
Much of the discussion among village officials focused on the zoning, with Community Development Director William Cooney pointing out that the nearby Wendy's restaurant has the same non-retail zoning but was granted an exception.
"The Rand Road corridor has always been a bit of a hodgepodge, A little bit of this and a little bit of that," Trustee Richard Rogers added.
When asked why he and his friends chose the location, Caputo said they were limited in their choice of a free-standing building, which would be required for the cigar shop.
"There was nothing (else) available in Mount Prospect, even in the surrounding areas," he said.