01/15/08 — Club 55 still looking for beer permit

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Club 55 still looking for beer permit

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on January 15, 2008 1:46 PM

SEVEN SPRINGS -- A decision in August to disallow a beer sales license to a Hispanic-themed nightclub hears a legal challenge on Jan. 24, officials say.

An administrative law judge is scheduled that day to hear Club 55 El Abuelo's petition, N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission lawyer Renee Cowick said.

The 15,000-square-foot club is located on 28 acres on N.C. 55, near its intersection with Jerusalem Church Road and about a half-mile from the Lenoir-Wayne County line.

Ms. Cowick used Saturday afternoon as an informal information-gathering session, talking to residents about any effects the club has had on their lives.

Area resident Chris Detwiler was among the crowd, staying after giving her own testimony to hear what her neighbors had to say.

She also urged them to "drag people to the hearing," as many as they could gather.

"That should make an impression on the judge," Mrs. Detwiler said.

Specific complaints included excessive noise, like couple Harry and Cate Murray, who live on N.C. 55 near the club.

The Murrays said that the club had become adept at turning down the music at the right time, when Lenoir County Sheriff's Office officials respond to a complaint.

Murray said that the Lenoir County Sheriff's non-emergency line once was answered by a person, but now is answered by a recording.

When the newspaper called the primary number for the Sheriff's Office on Monday afternoon, a recording of Lenoir County Sheriff W.E. "Billy" Smith played.

Others said the level of bass music affected their lives and work, like Wilma Jones, who tends bar at nearby Country Jeff's, a bar and grocery.

Residents testified that the level of bass music emanating from Club 55 El Abuelo could be heard over the music from karaoke night at Country Jeff's.

Ms. Jones said she was concerned with the size of the establishment if it is allowed to sell alcohol.

"When you have a place that big, and there's that many people -- I don't care what color they are, you get that many people in an establishment like that, drugs will be sold, people will be flying down the highway. The law will be called."

The ABC Commission lawyer said she would use the residents' comments to determine who she would have testify in support of the commission's decision to deny a beer sales permit.

Attorney Ms. Cowick said that the petition claimed the ABC Commission had "abused our discretion, that we have deprived them of a property right."

Goldsboro real estate and contract lawyer John Dees declined to comment for this story.

The judge had not decided a venue for the Jan. 24 hearing, but Ms. Cowick said she hoped it would take place in Kinston or Goldsboro after originally having been schedule for New Bern.