It was soon after Paul Schambs starting dating and fell for Mary Lynne Newsome that he actualized his longtime idea of building a wood-fired pizza oven in his backyard.
After some months of planning and assemblage, Schambs, a craftsman by trade in his early 60s, completed the project in May 2017.
Soon after, Schambs and Newsome, a hospice nurse, began hosting informal pop-ups for neighbors with parties assembled around the pit off Grandview. Neighbors with gardens lugged over mushrooms, others brought shrimp or anchovies. A second grade neighbor even immortalized Schambs and Newsome in a school marketing assignment at Roxboro Elementary.
"There's a lot more people who know each other on the street, and the pizza oven is one reason for that," one neighbor, who requested to remain anonymous, told Scene. "It's brought people together more than split them up."
Except for two.
As Schambs and Newsome's community pizza pit drew praise from most, it also drew the ire of one set of neighbors two houses to the south. That ire did not abate.
In July 2021, those neighbors, Brooks and Mika Jones, filed a 17-page complaint claiming the fumes from Schambs' pizza oven are a public nuisance and have caused them "significant physical discomfort and emotional distress." (Full PDF at end of article.)
The case will now head to trial beginning on Monday in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shannon Gallagher's courtroom.
The Joneses, represented by Lee Chilcote, purport that the oven's smoke and fumes—"visibly white, opaque and billowing"—have led to a range of symptoms, including, "coughing, sore throat, phlegm, headaches, burning eyes, dizziness, lightheadedness, fogginess, heart palpitations and sore lungs; the effects of the smoke and fumes last for a few days. Smoke odors linger on the Joneses’ clothing and hair and on their pets’ fur."
"Regardless of the presence or absence of visible smoke, the oven releases noxious fumes and odors at all times it is being used and operated," the complaint reads. All of the above "are offensive to the senses and would offend a person of ordinary sensibility."
"When Plaintiffs requested that the Defendants utilize a chimney extension, Defendants refused because the chimney extension would affect the quality of the pizza," the complaint reads, and, "From and after May 2017, Defendants’ continued to use and operate the Oven in a spirit of hatred, ill will or revenge."
(All parties involved in the suit declined to comment to Scene for this article.) The very-non-neighborly duel over pizza that's playing out on Grandview, a street comprised of brownstone fourplexes and century-old single family homes, is sharply resemblant of disputes that could be settled over a friendly chat but instead have headed into heated legal land with more frequency, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that noted they're just getting "nastier."
And the legal dispute and ongoing rivalry have, according to a half-dozen residents on Grandview, caused a ripple effect that goes beyond the primary players. It's caused unnecessary stress, weekly paranoia and fear that others might be next —if their grill or smoker is too smoky.
"Anything we do, we've felt, has been under this microscope for years," a neighbor who lives close to Schambs said.
The neighbor said she, like many of her friends on Grandview, initially perceived the Joneses' legal threat as "ridiculous"—a kind of absurdity.
"In the beginning, we all laughed. It was just like, you're what? You're suing someone over pizza?" the neighbor said. "And it was like a joke, right? I mean, no one took it seriously."
But the lawsuit was an escalation many could have seen coming.
And then, sometime in 2020 or 2021, a fire truck came to her house.
"Now, every time my husband lights the smoker, I'm conscious of, like, who are we disrupting?" she said. "We're always looking over our shoulders."
Every resident interviewed expressed a kind of surprise at the Joneses' actions, finding the couple, at first, friendly and respectable neighbors. After all, Brooks lived a seemingly successful life as a property manager, overseeing some 17 rentals with his wife Mika, a yoga teacher. Brooks Jones III, Brooks' oldest son, neighbors said, actually lived in Schambs and Newsome's house for a time.
"From our years as landlords, my wife Mika and I have made our places home for hundreds of people," reads the couples' website Grandview Place, amongst glowing reviews from traveling doctors and patients at the Cleveland Clinic. "We love the friendships that we have created, and we love taking care of people."
Following roughly two years of failing to prove a nuisance violation to the chief of police and the Cleveland Division of Air Quality, Brooks took his complaint public. On July 16, 2019, he spoke at a Cleveland Heights council meeting, pleading to officials for help in clarifying the city's air pollution ordinance. He explained that he filmed Schambs using the oven — which he did on "instruction" from Fire Chief Dave Freeman —and while the act made him "uncomfortable," it was required to build "a body of evidence."
"My purpose of being here this evening is to ask council's help to facilitate a thorough understanding and implementation of the chapters in the ordinance," Brooks said. "So we can move on with our life."
But Cleveland Heights officials were unmoved.
Two years later, he filed suit against Schambs and Newsome in civil court. Attempts to mediate a resolution have failed.
While the trial looms, neighbors say other street issues take precedence. One told Scene cars zipping down to the parkway pose a greater threat. It's garnered the nickname "Grandview Speedway" among some residents, and in April 2006, a bassist of the Cleveland Orchestra was killed on Grandview when a driver hit him as he was riding his bike.
Last year, partly as a response to the paranoia, a few residents created a group called the Grandview Luminaries, which has its own Instagram page. The group, one member told Scene, has "created a very positive energy on the street at a time when we really need it."
And it's likely the Luminaries will need their pick-me-up even if Judge Shannon Gallagher sides with Schambs and his pizza pit. The feelings of who's next won't subside, the neighbor a few houses down said, if the Joneses lose their case.
Still, she thinks the fire will go on.
"Oh, and the pizza is delicious," she said. "Paul, he's very dedicated to the craft of pizza, and he's, like, honed his dough. It's really good."
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