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Mayor, trustee spar over cafe liquor license

  • Written by Sharon L. Filkins

What started as a routine Worth Village Board meeting on Nov. 17 took a quick turn when the approval of a business application for Eli’s Café located at 10607 S. Harlem Ave. sparked a heated discussion about granting another liquor license for a video gaming café.

Over the strong objections of Trustee Colleen McElroy, the application was approved in a 5-1 vote.

McElroy, who co-chairs the Economic Development Commission with Trustee Rich Dziedzic, who also oversees Building, Licensing and Ordinances in his role as trustee, adamantly objected to the vote because the Economic Development Commission had recommended in its Nov. 12 meeting that it not be approved.

“What are we doing here?,” she asked. “What is more important to the village, sales tax revenue or the appearance of our village?” She reminded the board that Roma’s Café, also a video gaming business, had been approved last month and granted a liquor license.

“We are working on a long-range plan for the village with the RTA and hired a consultant to advise us. They have recommended to us that we look at the number of same-type businesses allowed to determine what is best for the overall future of Worth. Are we just wasting everyone’s time?

Citing a recent Open House Town Hall meeting on the Long-Range Plan, McElroy said it seemed apparent that residents want more restaurants, both fine dining and family-style, along with a better atmosphere for the village in general.

McElroy suggested that the role of the EDC be reevaluated. “It would be nice to get some direction from the Board. What role do you see for the EDC?”

“What they are doing, is good. Our last meeting was just a little rough,” Dziedzic responded.

Trustee Kevin Ryan said, “The EDC is a recommending body, but we (the Board) have the final word. We don’t want to be counter-productive.”

Agreeing with him was Trustee Pete Kats. ”I agree, we need to control our liquor licenses, we need to take a good hard look at it and set a number. But to say ‘No’ to this one would be wrong. A lot of hard work has gone into this project.”

Prior to the vote, Dziedzic responded to McElroy’s comment about the earlier approval of Roma’s Café, stating that there had been a misunderstanding with the owner of Eli’s Café about the timing of the paperwork needed for his application.

“They have come forward in good faith and provided the information needed and have offered to make the changes we had requested regarding the type of food they will serve. We are comfortable with allowing another liquor license at this time.”

In a statement before the vote was taken, Mayor Mary Werner said, “I have supported this project from the beginning because the business owner, Elias Mseeh, also owns the property and has proved to be a good business partner with the village.”

In a later interview, McElroy said, “We need to make sure we are all on the same page with our long-range plans and what we want for the village. We (the EDC) need more communication from the liquor commissioner (the mayor) and building, licensing and ordinances. These applications should be coming to the EDC first for review, especially on businesses prohibited by our Municipal Code. How long are we supposed to wait for paperwork to be in order? We need more control of what is coming in. I believe we are over saturated with video gambling businesses and I am not in favor of any more being approved.”

Werner later addressed those issues.

“The heart of the problem seems to be that the Board has the authority to change an ordinance,” said Werner. “There are two mandates in our Municipal Code; the number of liquor ordinances allowed and the number of tattoo licenses. If we want to add a liquor license, we can change the ordinance, which is what we did in this case.”

Werner reiterated that she had been for this project from day one because the business owner was also the landlord and had proved to be a good partner with the village.

“The building has been empty for a long time and he has maintained it and kept it in good shape,” she said.

She added that even though there had been a delay in the paperwork being turned in, when Mseeh returned in September still expressing the desire to open the business, Werner sent an email to the trustees on Sept. 10 asking if they were interested in adding a liquor license. All were in favor except McElroy.

Werner said she notified Dziedzic of the responses on Sept. 14. In October, the required paperwork was returned. The next step was for the EDC to review it. On Oct. 6, all the information was provided to the EDC so they would have it for their Nov. 12 meeting.

“The bottom line is that even though the EDC does not recommend an approval, the Board has the final authority” Werner said.

Currently, there are 24 liquor licenses in Worth, with 13 of them issued to businesses with video gambling, including the recent approval of licenses for Roma’s Café (not open yet) and Eli’s Café.

In other business, the board voted approval to continue its Electric Aggregation Program and Power Supply Agreement with Eligo Energy LLC. The contract calls for a flat rate charge to residents and no charge for opting out of the program.