Michael Lieb's attempt to open a café has again been denied. On October 23 the Belleville Zoning Board of Appeals rejected his application for a commercial rezoning request at 400 Mascoutah Avenue by a 4-2 vote. This decision came after the board originally approved the request, only to see the city council overwhelmingly reject it in September.
It seems the address is popular for all the wrong reasons these days. The vacant No Where Saloon is currently located on the property, and for years, residents complained of loud noise, traffic and its patrons who were found urinating in the street. These same residents convinced the council that opening a café would also cause problems.
Opponents to rezoning cite familiar concerns about parking availability, noise and aesthetics. Long-time resident Mary Jo Behrman says she's concerned that rezoning would make it easier to obtain a liquor license at a later time, though Lieb says he has no intentions of opening a bar.
"Because of all the troubles we've had in the past, we want to keep it residential," says Elaine Shanks, who lives behind the property.
Over the last few months, Lieb scaled back his plans and promised to close the café at 6 p.m. Now Lieb spends a good deal of his time responding to his most vocal critics.
On October 7, he filed a $50,000 anti-defamation lawsuit against Belleville resident Maureen Morris and Citizens Reviving Historic Belleville Inc., the nonprofit group she leads. Lieb claims Morris is derailing his attempts to open the coffeehouse by raising bogus questions about his background.
With litigation pending, Morris referred questions to her Belleville attorney, Melroy Hutnick, who declined to comment.
Lieb, meanwhile, says he'll reapply in January. In the interim, he plans to knock on doors and lobby residents to support his café.
"And by God, if there are more yeas than nays, then I will stop," he says.— Matt Kasper