CRYSTAL LAKE – After years of disagreements on city ordinances, ownership at Fire Bar & Grill in Crystal Lake is looking to annex into Lake in the Hills, although it is likely impossible according to Crystal Lake leaders.
Nino Hermes, owner of the bar at 435 Angela Lane, said certain restrictions such as the prohibition on video gambling, closing hours of 2 a.m. on the weekends and the multiple hurdles to add an outdoor area have created significant disadvantages compared to his closest competitor – Moretti's Ristorante & Pizzeria in Lake in the Hills.
"There are a lot of things we can't do that we would be able to in other cities," Hermes said. "I'm not in the downtown area. We're the stepchild out here on the corner. We're only a mile away from the Lake in the Hills Police Department. It seems like we should be under their governance."
Lake in the Hills allows Moretti's to remain open until 4 a.m. on weekends and provide video gambling – two perks that Hermes said have taken both employees and some regulars away from Fire Bar & Grill which is only a mile and a half down Randall Road.
Although it is not in downtown, Crystal Lake Mayor Aaron Shepley said the business is still part of Crystal Lake and must adhere to the ordinances in place to protect the community. Shepley said video gambling and 4 a.m. bars are not part of the city's character.
"At the end of the day, we in municipal government have the responsibility to develop ordinances that are reflective of the values of our community," Shepley said. "If he cannot bear the ordinances of the city, then he will have a business decision to make. It would be regrettable to lose his business, but they have to operate within the rules."
Fleeing to Lake in the Hills through annexation may be impossible. Shepley said the business does not directly border any part of Lake in the Hills, which makes it legally impossible to annex out.
Because Hermes leases the property, Shepley said the property owner would need to allow the annexation even if it were possible. Shepley said the property owners have a long history with Crystal Lake and would have no desire to leave, while Hermes said the property owners already indicated to him they would do what is in the best interest of his business.
Hermes, who has two years left on the lease, said he could try to end the lease early to relocate to Lake in the Hills if annexation is not possible. He already opened a new restaurant in Algonquin when he could have done so on Route 14, but he said Algonquin was more business friendly.
After trying to offer services with the community in mind, such as free shuttles to and from Fire Bar & Grill in an effort to make the road a little safer, Hermes said he is disappointed in the lack of flexibility from the city.
"There are people afraid to speak out against the city, but I have to make a statement," he said. "They need to make some changes or they might keep losing businesses."