Village revitalization hearing draws criticism

LISBON — Village council’s plans to create a downtown revitalization district for the benefit of a restaurateur drew criticism from the man who owns the building next door to the proposed eatery.

“I can’t afford too much more of this town changing its mind” about what rules and regulations apply to properties in the downtown business district, said Herb Chesney, speaking at this week’s public hearing.

The hearing was to take public input on Mayor Joe Morenz’s proposal to create a downtown revitalization district, which will allow Jason Geissinger to seek a state liquor permit for his proposed restaurant, Scratch. The restaurant is located in the former Chef’s Table storefront at 130 S. Market St., and Chesney owns the building next door where the Lisbon Barbershop is located.

Officials told Chesney creation of the revitalization district would not result in any new regulations for property owners. “It doesn’t change the zoning or the zoning laws,” village Fiscal Office Tracey Wonner told him.

Creating a revitalization district would make any restaurant within the area eligible to apply for a state liquor license, which is what Geissinger supposedly intends to do. State law allows one new liquor license to be issued for every five acres within a district (the proposed district encompasses 13 acres) and at a significantly reduced cost for the applicant than if they had to purchase it from a license holder. These licenses can only go to establishments that derive no more than 25 percent of their gross receipts from the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Councilman Jeff Snyder said it is his understanding the liquor license would stay with the building. “If you buy the business you buy the license. That’s the only way you can get it,” he said.

Chesney, who is a local contractor, said the building next door has many problems, yet no local or state permits have been obtained for any of the renovations that have occurred.

“This is not the place for a restaurant and this man needs to show the community he is going to fix it up,” said Chesney, who has frequently criticized the village for failing to follow its own zoning rules. “You’re rewarding people for doing the wrong thing, that’s what I see.”

Morenz pointed out the building is owned by someone other than Geissinger, who is leasing the first floor for Scratch. He said no such permits are necessary when it involves basic remodeling, such as replacing the flooring, which Chesney disputed.

Morenz said the only zoning violation occurred when his office mistakenly told Geissinger no permit was needed to put faux brick on the front of the restaurant. “When I went down it was already up. That was our fault,” he said.

Councilwoman Dawn Thomas said having another restaurant downtown can only be a good thing, and Morenz agreed. “That helps draw business to our downtown,” he said.

Council is expected to act on the proposal at its June 27 meeting.

In related news, Morenz reviewed with council the changes he would like made before they pass a vacant building code that would require property owners with vacant buildings in the business district to make some effort to lease or sell the buildings or face being fined.