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By the narrowest of margins, in its third vote on the issue, the Fayette County Board approved on Tuesday a liquor license for a new restaurant on Vandalia Lake.
The board voted 7-6 on the request from Steve “Luke” and Latisha Mabry, who opened The Lake House last month.
The vote came two weeks before the future of the restaurant is determined in court.
On Thursday, Sept. 24, a judge will decide whether the city has the authority to enforce a 1988 agreement that subjected the Mabrys property to residential zoning.
Tuesday’s vote on the Mabry’s request to sell beer and wine came after a long – and, sometimes, heated – discussion. During that discussion, a person living next to the restaurant was asked to leave the meeting.
The board voted 10-4 in April to reject the Mabry’s request for a liquor license, and in June, the vote on their second request ended in a 7-7 tie.
On Tuesday, those voting in the majority were Chairman Steve Knebel, Vice Chairman Jeff Beckman, Glenn Gurtner, Loy Staff, Wade Wilhour, Dean Bernhardt and Darrell Schaal.
Voting against the issuance of the license were Jean Finley, Joe Kelly, John Daniels Jr., Glen “Whitey” Daniels, John Blythe and Troy Pattillo.
Keith Cole was not present for the meeting. Cole voted against the Mabrys’ application in April and for it in June.
As they cast their votes, Bernhardt and Pattillo made brief statements.
Bernhardt said he “decided a few minutes ago to vote ‘yes’ and leave it up to the city.”
Pattillo said that he was voting “with some difficulty, ‘no.’”
In bringing the license application up for a vote, Knebel delivered a lengthy address, telling board members why they should approve the license.
Knebel said that the Mabrys had been issued a permit to operate a restaurant by the Fayette County Health Department.
“There is a legitimate business asking for a liquor license … not withstanding the city’s issue, which is not the Fayette County Board’s concern. I cannot emphasize that enough,” he said.
“That has no bearing on whether we should issue a liquor license or not,” he said.
Knebel said that the board recently issued liquor licenses for the Shrine Club on Vandalia Lake and Summer Breeze Wine House in St. James. “They are legitimate businesses – they filled out the same application as the Lake House.
“There have been a lot of feelings over this. But personal feelings can only go so far, personal beliefs can only go so far,” Knebel said.
“Personal beliefs need to be set aside some times. If personal beliefs are a reason to not issue a liquor license, then why did this board issue a liquor license to these other two entities,” he said.
If a judge rules that the Mabrys cannot legally operate their restaurant at that location, Knebel said, “it voids the liquor license.”
He said that people spoke out against the Mabrys’ application, but, “The opponents here were against the restaurant (at that location), not the liquor license. They didn’t want the restaurant to go up in that place, and it did.
“They’ve met all the requirements,” Knebel said.
John Daniels Jr. and Glen “Whitey” Daniels told Knebel why they would continue to cast dissenting votes.
John Daniels Jr. said, “People can vote whether an area is wet or dry, and there are enough people from that area that wants it to stay dry. We should respect their opinions.”
Knebel said that votes on alcohol sales are in townships, not specific areas.
Glen Daniels told Knebel that he understood what the chairman was telling him, but that he still wants to protect the rights of the people in that area.
“My objection is for the people who live there. Terry (“Rube” Yarbrough) doesn’t want it in his front yard, and I wouldn’t want it in mine,” Daniels said.
Knebel told Daniels that he was wrong if he was voting with that in mind, and later, Daniels told Knebel, “Nobody on this board should criticize somebody for how they vote.”
Beckman echoed Knebel’s thoughts. “Who do we think we are to sit up here, when somebody asks for a liquor license and we tell them to do this and to do that, and they go out and do every bit of it, and we tell them that they can’t have it?
“You cannot hold a license hostage over what the city does. I think that’s a terrible liability for us to get into,” Beckman said.
Early on in Knebel’s address, Yarbrough interjected. Knebel said that he wouldn’t allow outbursts.
Later, Yarbrough spoke up again, telling Knebel and the board, “My easement’s already been blocked and I can show you pictures.”
Knebel told Sheriff Aaron Lay to escort Yarbrough out of the courtroom, but Yarbrough said he would leave on his own. But he did not leave without making additional comments.
“Can’t you open your eyes and see at all,” he said to Knebel.
“That’s all you do is run a kangaroo court – your way or the highway,” he said.
Supporting passage of the application, Gurtner said he has been in court when “a judge ruled that you are entitled to do with your property as you see fit. Property owners have the right to do what they want.”
Teena Yarbrough spoke out against the license request, saying that in obtaining a permit from the health department, the Mabrys were required to be complaint with all city and county zoning laws.
“Are they compliant? We don’t know,” Yarbrough said, adding that the city sent the Mabrys a cease-and-desist letter, but they ignored it.
“There is a lot of gray area (with this matter),” she said.
“There are already problems” with parking and individuals’ behavior,” Yarbrough said.
Lay confirmed that his department had been called to The Lake House one time. He said that there were no arrests, and he was unsure what had taken place.
“It seems to me that liquor is only going to add to it,” Yarbrough said. “I don’t see why the county board wouldn’t want to wait (to see what the court rules).
“It just complicates the situation even more,” Yarbrough said.
In response to Yarbrough, Knebel said that customers of the restaurant are allowed to bring in their own alcohol.
“To me, I think that would be worse, in one respect,” he said. “(With a license), you can control it.”
Yarbrough said, “Once maybe the food side dies off, it’s going to be a bar – the Mabrys can say what they want.”
Knebel said, “You’re getting into a lot of speculation here.”
After the vote was taken, Glen Daniels said, “I am so glad it’s over. It’s in the hands of the city now, and that’s where it should be.”