Restaurant owner to keep balcony lights after taking city to court

The+hanging+lights+above+the+balcony+of+Tony%27s+on+Main+Street+were+the+subject+of+a+recent+hearing.+The+Landmarks+Board+ruled+they+were+not+allowed+in+a+historic+district%2C+but+the+restaurant%27s+owner+argued+the+city+made+the+decision+because+of+personal+animosity+against+him.++

Alexis Montgomery

The hanging lights above the balcony of Tony's on Main Street were the subject of a recent hearing. The Landmarks Board ruled they were not allowed in a historic district, but the restaurant's owner argued the city made the decision because of personal animosity against him.

Alexis Montgomery, Culture Editor

The owner of Tony’s on Main Street was told in 2018 that the lights on his balcony violated regulations for buildings in the Historic Downtown District of St. Charles, but is now allowed to keep them up after he took city and its former mayor to court to reverse the decision.

Tony Bethmann had five-watt hanging lights above his restaurant’s front balcony, which he said were necessary to keep the area well-lit for the safety of his customers and employees.

“You have to be safe,” he said in court last month. “You don’t want cords where trip hazards can be…so the overhead lights were a nice, simple solution, and they’re being used by other people.”

But in 2018, the city Landmarks Board told Bethmann the lights were not allowed on North Main Street.

The board based its decision on a portion of the guidelines for historic buildings that states “Avoid placing lights in highly visible locations, such as on the upper walls of the buildings,” Bob Bettis, a preservation planner for the City of St. Charles, said in an email.

After the Landmarks Board’s decision, Bethmann went to the city council to request a reversal of the decision in August 2018.  The council voted 5-4 in favor of Bethmann keeping the lights, with one council member absent, but it required six votes to reverse the decision.  So, Bethmann took the decision to the county circuit court.

In a hearing on Jan. 24, 2020, Bethmann and Daniel Goldberg, the lawyer representing Bethmann’s company, presented a video from his appeal to the city council, in which Bethmann argued the city had “personal animosity” toward him due to a previous lawsuit.  In the over-30-minute-long video, Bethmann played a profanity-laced audio recording of a conversation with a city council member about a 2014 lawsuit in which Tony’s and another business sued city officials over a tourism tax.  The councilman, who has since retired from the council, said the recording was made without his consent.

A video of an August 2018 city council meeting which Bethmann and his lawyer played in the court proceeding last month.

 

Bethmann also said he was the victim of a “witch hunt” because “dozens” of other establishments have similar lights, and his lights are not “highly visible.”

“Unless you’re looking straight up, you’re not going to see them, folks,” he said in the video.  “They’re 25 feet in the air.  They’re not ‘wham,’ right in front of you.”

Bethmann testified on the stand that there were 16 other establishments besides him that had similar string lights. Bethmann even added that Uncle Joe’s had lights above the deck like Tony’s, but the city did not take any action to remove Uncle Joe’s lights.

Bethmann also said that his string lights on the balcony met the guidelines for the Historic Downtown District in the fact that they illuminated the walkways, accented signs, and encouraged pedestrian activity at night.

The city attorney, Michael Valenti, said at the beginning of the hearing he had a witness, but did not present evidence or call a witness.

The defendants named in the case included Sally Faith, who was mayor of St. Charles in 2018.

The judge ruled in favor of Bethmann, reversing the Landmarks Board’s decision that his lights were not allowed.

Bethmann has frequently been in conflict with the city about a liquor law enacted last year and has supported Mayor Dan Borgmeyer’s efforts to change the law.

UPDATED February 28, 2020 at 7:45 p.m. to mention former mayor Sally Faith as defendant and include quotes from the hearing.

The balcony of Tony’s on Main Street at night.