our hero henry - first started - Bars, Noise And Videotape : Tremont's Hatfields And Mccoys Feud Over Neighborhood Tavern

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Volume 12, Issue 42
Published February 9th, 2005

Bars, Noise And Videotape : Tremont's Hatfields And Mccoys Feud Over Neighborhood Tavern

By Michael Gill

HENRY SENYAK has resorted to videotape in his fight against what was once a neighborhood bar. He and his elderly mom live across the street from the Starkweather Southside, the latest incarnation of a longtime beer hall in Tremont. They've lived on the second floor of their building for more than 50 years, and operated a laundry in the storefront until the early'80s. Senyak remembers Trinka's and a half-dozen neighborhood taverns within a couple blocks, but he says they were quiet places. He and his friends used to be patrons.

But in March 2003, Chris Lieb and William Scanlon bought Trinka's and turned it into the Starkweather. They booked live bands and hosted “E-Z Wednesdays” and “Monday Nights of Rhythm and Booze.” The crowds grew. So did the rift between the bar and the neighbors.

So Senyak began documenting the patrons' behavior. A compilation of moments from the archive shows a predictable mix of activity outside a bar after midnight: the inebriated stagger back to the car before drinkers hit the highway, the drunken howl of wooo hooo into the night, a few bowls not so surreptitiously smoked, and even a blowjob on a tour bus parked on the street out front.

It's the kind of neighbor vs. bar battle that has plagued Tremont, Lakewood and other crowded neighborhoods for years as new residents and businesses mingle uncomfortably with the old. On the one hand, neighbors want quiet, and some have lived there for decades or even lifetimes. On the other, the street was built with people living next to and above businesses, and the city courts young professionals and entertainment that will cater to them. If dense, old-style neighborhoods have a downside, this is it.

“YEAH, THERE'S A PROBLEM,” Lieb says. “It's that my neighbor is insane.”

Their first battle came in the first six months, when Senyak and other members of the Lincoln Heights/Scranton-Starkweather Block Club discovered that the tavern's zoning didn't allow live bands and DJs. The proprietors asked for a variance, but the neighborhood said no. City Councilman Nelson Cintron Jr. joined the chorus with a letter saying the neighborhood is not appropriate for “a nightclub with entertainment, due to serious problems of noise, traffic, insufficient parking, and other problems connected with clubs.”

So live music at the Starkweather went the way of the dinosaur. But the radio and jukebox can still be heard in the wee hours, and the “other problems” Cintron referred to continue unabated.

Lieb says all his customers know there's a guy sitting in the window across the street with a video camera, and a lot of them — especially women — have a problem with it. Patrons leaving the bar late at night make gestures and say all manner of rude things to the man in the window.

Lieb tracks down people who misbehave on their way out of the bar, and in some cases has banished them from the premises: like the old regular who used to pee next to cars in the lot. Senyak's own complaint log recognizes this. It also indicates that Senyak stopped calling in mid-October, when Lieb told him that since he was not a law enforcement officer, he wasn't going to intervene in any drug activity Senyak saw and in some cases videotaped.

Senyak says he's not getting any help from law enforcement officers, either. He wrote to Jane Campbell that “the biggest difficulty is we cannot get the city's police division to take this seriously.” He says he's made 100 calls to the police, but that the city's noise ordinance has never been enforced.

The noise ordinance is very strict: “No radio...or musical instrument shall be played ...at a volume plainly audible to persons other than those who are in the room in which [it] is played, and who are voluntary listeners thereto.”

The audio on Senyak's video plays the sound of the Starkweather loud and clear.

Cleveland Police Sargent Gail Bindel wrote back on behalf of Chief Ed Lohn and the mayor: “Second District Zone Cars, Vice and Fresh Start Units all have received complaints concerning this establishment. Both the Vice Unit and State Department of Liquor Control have conducted liquor inspections without any violations being found.”

WHEN LIEB and his partner bought the Starkweather, they inherited a long list of building code violations, which to this day have kept the building department from giving him a certificate of occupancy. Lieb says the violations have only become a problem because the place is no longer what he calls “an old man bar.” Instead of fading into the Scranton Road woodwork with a half-dozen guys hunched over their Busch all day, he's attracting crowds.

Even before the brouhaha, the new owners had plans to improve the building and add a patio. They applied for the city's Storefront Renovation Program and got a loan — but not enough money to cover the whole project.

The renovation plans are more than cosmetic: a structural upgrade of a historic building. The $55,000 loan will cover new windows and doors for the storefront, tuck- pointing bricks, rebuilding the tilted parapet, a new roof, replacement of big moldings that frame the façade, and painting the exterior. The work will remedy many of the building's code violations.

By helping with Lieb's application for the Storefront money, Senyak says Tremont West Development Corporation is putting the business' interest ahead of his own. Tremont West president Jon Boylan says he's aware that Senyak has made this argument in a letter to the mayor, but that by contract, TWDC administers the program on behalf of the city, and that is their only role.

“We don't make decision about who receives assistance,” Boylan says. “It's beyond our power to stop owners from operating. Our interest is to mediate.”

With or without any boost from the CDC, Lieb's building violations caught up with him faster than he could get the work done. Last spring he was given 30 days to get permits to correct the violations, and 90 days to have it all complete. The deadline came and went in August. Last fall he landed in housing court. The front windows are still bricked up, and none of the above work is complete. Two weeks ago he was fined $10,000.

THE LATEST BATTLEFRONT has to do with a patio. With no citations from the police, Lieb and his partner were able to get a zoning variance to build a patio on the site of their parking lot. He didn't get enough money through the storefront program to build it, but at the last block club meeting, Councilman Cintron told the neighbors that he was considering helping Lieb get the patio done by giving them some of his discretionary money.

That's public money, which from one perspective would help a local business proceed with renovations and rectify violations of the building code. But from Senyak's perspective, that's public money being used to create more problems for him and his neighbors.

Minutes from the meeting show Senyak told Cintron that it's “time to take this to the media.” To which Cintron responded, “Let's call the media right now. I'm no stranger to microphones.”

Lieb told the Free Times he's expecting to pay for his patio out of his own pocket. If he gets the work done, he'll have to abide a 12-point peace, quiet, and safety agreement signed by all parties concerned, including Cintron and the Cleveland Law Department.

But in the meantime, his legal troubles continue to mount. This Wednesday, he has a hearing to extend his permits and continue to be allowed to operate. The thick file of complaints accumulated since his last Building Department hearing will not speak in his favor.

Cintron says there are currently no grounds to object to a liquor license, but that if the patio gets built and that agreement is not upheld, they may have a complaint.

Boylan says Tremont West wants to see the situation resolved, wants the building restored, but ultimately has to come down on the side of the resident.

“Unfortunately it has become a Hatfields and McCoys situation,” Boylan says. “It doesn't appear that there is much common ground.”

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