Mount Prospect village board members this week approved a zoning change that will allow a cigar lounge to open in an area zoned for offices, but the lengthy discussion highlighted the friction between the business area and the adjoining residential area.
The change from B1 -- business office district -- to B3 -- community shopping district -- that would allow Havana Joe's to open at 211 E. Rand Road depends on the property's owners, who include grocer Nat Caputo, putting in a restrictive covenant prohibiting a liquor store, a firearms store or a hookah lounge on the property.
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The covenant arose as a compromise at an October meeting between the petitioner's attorney, Michael Alesia, and the homeowners association for the Maple Crest subdivision, which has opposed the more intense zoning. Alesia called it "a very cordial and productive meeting."
Representing the association board, Patricia Dekirmenjian, the co-secretary, agreed that the meeting was productive. However, she read a letter from board President Habib Bilfaqi that said the issue was not so much the cigar store itself but "how much more Mount Prospect can make back in taxes by changing the zoning to B3 versus the limited use of B1."
The letter added, "Our quality of life is an issue at hand, and new tax dollars do not give you the right to walk on longtime homeowners who pay more taxes collectively."
Trustee Paul Hoefert, who was the only trustee voting against the use, took exception to the letter, saying, "I find it insulting to say that this board is only concerned about tax dollars. If you think it does, you're wrong." The village is business friendly where it is appropriate, he said.
Homeowners who spoke at Tuesday night's meeting reiterated their long history of problems with noise and vandalism from surrounding properties, including a youth center where they said youths would be playing loud music, drinking beer and climbing over the property's fence.
Not all the homeowners in the audience were on board with the compromise.
Kathleen Schalk spoke directly to the issue of the smoke, which the owners say will be treated by a filtration system that will clean the air before sending it out into the community.
She cited a statement by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers that such systems, while removing the smell, do not remove the toxins.
"We want to make healthy choices for ourselves. There are many in the Maple Crest complex and nearby who have children, who don't want the long hours, who don't want the noise, who are battling diseases such as asthma, cancer, other respiratory complications, premature births and heart disease. And they do not want a business of this type near their homes."
Calling the new zoning a possible Pandora's box, resident John Masoncup said, "It boils down to fear. Fear for our health. Fear for our well-being in terms of enjoying our neighborhood."
One resident, former village trustee candidate Kevin Grouwinkel, said he supports the business. "I think this is what we need. Somebody has picked Mount Prospect. They like Mount Prospect for a business environment. I think we need to support people like that."
In discussing his reservations about the proposal, Hoefert said the board needs to be sensitive to the fact that the property is up against a residential area. He also said he is concerned about the proposal because it would put the village in the middle of disputes over air quality issues that it cannot monitor.
Trustee A. John Korn said the covenants provide some protection and added that under the existing zoning, people are allowed to smoke outside.
Trustee Michael Zadel said he was satisfied the owner would address odor issues with the filtration system.
Trustee Steven Polit said he supports the change because "the residents are connected enough with it to monitor it," while the petitioner is willing to work with the residents.
Trustee John Matuszak noted the property was formerly occupied by a Pearle Vision, which is similar to what is allowed in a community shopping district, and added he does not believe a lot of people are going to be outside on the patio smoking cigars.