Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sometimes You Can Fight City Hall And Win

Complaint By Local Merchant Gets Unlicensed business closed by city after approximately three year run

By Tony Brockmeyer

It was about ten years ago that Jasper Noto decided it was time to get out of the concrete and swimming pool business and get into a business that was not as labor intensive or as dependent upon the weather.

Jasper and his mother Florence had visited Main Street in St. Charles and had heard wonderful stories about all the successful businesses. They felt Main Street was for them. They searched and found a location they liked in the 300 block of North Main. There they opened Mother’s Cupboard. They toiled from morning to night every day and although they worked hard and provided wonderful products, the sales just never lived up to their expectations. In an interview with the First Capitol News several years ago Jasper referred to the 300 block of North Main Street as the “bastard block.” “None of the action or activities or festivals on North Main comes onto the 300 block. They all stop a block short,” Jasper said. “More and more businesses are coming and going and it is a struggle each day just to meet our bills.”

Jasper thought they had made a mistake. “It’s South Main where the action is he began to say.” Finally when their lease was due to be renewed, they decided to move to a new building that was going to be constructed on South Main. Jasper and his Mom thought that finally they would achieve their dream. Even though licensing was more expensive and taxes higher they felt the move to South Main would be beneficial and bring them more business.

“I thought we would never get open,” Jasper said. Every day there was a new regulation or order from the City. Change this, change that, move this. over and over. It seemed that some of the people who had been on Main Street for ages thought this was their private domain and no one else belonged here. The city placed roadblock after roadblock in our way. The deck is too big it has to be made smaller, no windows on the side of the building that faces the Mayor’s building. The City even placed a stop work order on the building when they did not like the type of windows that were being installed. Finally after a lot of trial and tribulation caused by the city, J. Noto’s Italian Confections became a reality at 336 South Main Street.

The sales did not increase at the pace they would have liked but finally the business begins to prosper.

The festivals and activities did not bring the crowds into their business they thought would happen on South Main Street. “They line the street with booths and the people cannot even see our business,” Jasper said. Then when you ask to purchase the booth space in front of your store they won’t let you. You can purchase space but it may not even be close to your store.”

If that wasn’t bad enough Jasper was upset that across the street during each festival and during the annual Christmas Traditions program on South Main Street a cookie stand was set up. “Someone would come in and set up a tent and a sign that said Grandma’s Cookies and they would sell cookies and drinks. This went on for at least three years. Located next to the sidewalk, they took a lot of sales from our business. I called the city and complained but I was told the people had a license and owned the property and nothing was done. One year after our complaint, an inspector from the city came to our shop. We had an A frame sign on the sidewalk listing some of our specialties. Customers were in our shop and he barged in and told us the sign was illegal and to remove it immediately. I told him as soon as we finished with our customers. He then went outside and removed it from the sidewalk and placed it on the ground around the side of our building.”

This year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Grandma’s Cookies set up for business in the yard next to 401 South Main Street. They constructed a temporary cedar building with a canvas top. “During the last festival their tent was blown over and that is probably why they constructed a cedar building,” Jasper said. “They are really hurting our business and the city won’t do anything.”

Jasper said, “I talked to Bruce Evans the Community Development Director over a week ago. He finally called me back and told me they have a license to bake their cookies in their home and they should have a conditional use permit to place the temporary structure there. He further said his inspector had talked to them and they were in violation and since they were going to apply for a conditional use permit they would allow them to remain open until the conditional use permit could be voted on in January. I pointed out to him the Christmas Season would be over by then but he told me that was their policy. He told me that it took a while to contact the people from Grandma’s Cookies because their phone number was not on their business license.”

The First Capitol News contacted Bruce Evans at City Hall. He essentially told us the same thing. He further said it was the Christmas Season and they did not want to close the business because they would probably refuse and take the City to court and then there would be the expense of a lawsuit. He felt it would be better to allow them to operate while a conditional use permit was pending.

An investigation by the First Capitol News revealed that Grandma’s Cookies had a health inspection in September at 15 Briarwood Lane in St. Charles. We also contacted the licensing office at City Hall and were told that Grandma’s Cookies do not and did not have a St. Charles Business license and apparently were not paying sales tax or special business district tax nor Convention and Visitors Bureau tax. An additional fee is charged for business licenses for businesses on South Main Street and they evidently had not paid for that license either.

We contacted Community Development Director Bruce Evans and told him the results of our investigation. He told us the business would be issued an order to close and to remove the temporary structure from the property.

After informing Jasper Noto what Bruce Evans had told us he said, “Do you think the City is going to collect the taxes and fees they owe for the past several years?