Residents gathered at the Executive Cigars zoning hearing today. (Photo by Kelsey Shea).
About 50 Deutschtown residents, community developers and East Allegheny Community Council members showed up to the continuance of the zoning board hearing for Executive Cigars this morning Downtown.
Northside residents are concerned about recent activities happening in and around the Executive Cigars store in Historic Deutschtown.
While Executive Cigars has been in business for three years on Suismon Street, in August of last year late-night parties on the second floor of the building and a shooting nearby began creating disturbances that have neighbors and the East Allegheny Community Council concerned.
After complaints, a court order and police involvement, the late-night parties were stopped in March.
Last month Lee applied to the zoning board to extend his shop hours until 2 a.m. and permit members of his club to bring alcohol onto the premise. Residents who have complained of fights, noise, smoke and other problems from the store are opposed to the changes.
At Lee’s first zoning hearing on April 19, neighborhood residents showed up for the hearing in opposition to his plans. The board delayed the hearing was until today in the hopes that the two parties could come to an agreement outside of court.
A meeting between Lee and the community was held on May 1, but no resolution was reached.
At today’s continuance, a similar crowd was present. Lee presented a slideshow to the zoning board with 126 photos featuring what kind of people are members and patrons of his cigar shop, which included doctors, politicians and businessmen.
He expressed that despite previous problems with the shop that stemmed from an illegal after hours club on the shop’s second floor, Executive Cigars is a respectable business.
Lee said the man who ran the upstairs afterhours club is no longer a tenant there, and that his lease with him ended on March 9. He said he had no affiliation with the afterhours club and does not believe there will be any more problems in the neighborhood.
He said he hopes to expand the clubs hours and allow patrons to bring their own alcohol to accommodate groups that rent the second floor for parties and events.
Several club members and patrons testified on Lee’s behalf that it was a calm environment where some mentioned they came to work, relax or even pray.
After Lee, several neighbors and EACC members spoke to the problems caused by Executive Cigars that included noise, smoke and parking problems.
The zoning board questioned Lee on what actions will be taken to prevent these problems in the future and the community about what problems they have seen since the afterhours club ended in March.
The zoning board will take several weeks to decide whether Executive Cigars will be permitted to extend its hours and allow alcohol on the premise.
Today’s continuance came on the heel of a protection-from-abuse order Lee filed against Zone 1 Commander Rashall Brackney on May 8. Lee accused Cmdr. Brackney of threatening him and targeting his business after they ended a romantic relationship.
Cmdr. Brackney has denied these charges and has obtained an attorney. She remains on the force but is forced to relinquish her weapon after her shifts.
According to the PFA, Brackney told Lee’s attorney that she would “do whatever it takes to get [Lee].”
"This PFA was filed without merit," Cmdr. Brackney wrote in a statement. "Mr. Lee and I have never had a personal relationship, and there is a well-documented history and paper trail of any interactions which I have had with Lee. This history will illustrate the absurdity of his claim in the coming days. As a police officer who has walked the streets for over 28 years, I can say how vital PFAs are in protecting innocent victims from abusive tormentors. To see the PFA statute utilized in this way is no less than an abomination of our system and is disrespectful to victims of abuse of which it is intended to protect."
After today’s zoning board continuance, Lee did not wish to talk about the PFA and said it was not related to the matter of his shop. However at the April 30 community meeting at Bistro-to-Go, Lee accused Brackney of abusing her power, harassing him and disrupting his business.
Cmdr. Brackney did not testify at this morning’s continuance. Though she was scheduled to speak, she remained in a separate room.
City Council President Darlene Harris spoke to the charges Lee laid against Brackney at the April 30 community meeting, which she moderated.
“It’s just ridiculous,” said Harris. “It was an embarrassment how he treated Cmdr. Brackney at that meeting. I was appalled.”
Ed Graf, East Allegheny Community Council Treasurer, said he does not believe the charges against Brackney are veritable.
“Her actions were driven by the neighborhood,” said Graf, who noted Historic Deutschtown neighbors’ many complaints about Lee’s store.