09/10/08 — Club 55 OK'd for permit for beer sales

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Club 55 OK'd for permit for beer sales

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on September 10, 2008 1:38 PM

SEVEN SPRINGS -- The state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission on Tuesday granted Club 55 El Abuelo its license to serve beer.

The decision was months in the making, after hundreds of area residents signed a petition trying to block the Hispanic-themed night club near Seven Springs from serving alcohol.

Renee Cowick is assistant counsel for the N.C. ABC Commission, who represented the neighbors who opposed the club.

"Unfortunately, the agencies are pretty restricted when they're reviewing a judge's decision," Ms. Cowick said, referring to Administrative Law Judge Melissa Owens Lassiter.

Lassiter decided in June that the ABC commission "did not have substantial evidence to deny his (Club 55 owner Randy Mills) application."

Tuesday's hearing was a challenge to the judge's decision, but Ms. Cowick said there was little hope of overturning it.

"I'm not surprised (about the decision), just based on the statutory restriction," she said. "I certainly can't argue with the legality of the commissioner's decision, but I hate it for the neighborhood."

Ms. Cowick sat through hours of informal testimony in January, where neighbors gathered to inform her of noise, traffic and trash problems that they attributed to club patrons.

She said it was not yet clear when Mills and Club 55 El Abuelo (Spanish for "The Grandfather") would be allowed to start serving alcohol.

"We've still got to issue him the permit, so at this point, I'm not sure what we need to do -- they'll put a permit in the mail to him. It's up to (that) division to see how quickly they get to it," Ms. Cowick said.

Goldsboro real estate and contract law specialist John Dees, who represented the club, has declined to comment throughout the case. He also declined comment after his victory Tuesday before the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.

"Thank you for the call, but I don't have any comment for the case," Dees said.

Club owner Mills could not be reached for comment.

Local residents Harry and Cate Murray, Zoe Mossberg and Chris Detwiler and the employees of nearby establishment Country Jeff's, who had all complained about noise and other problems at the club, could not be reached for comment by deadline today.

Lenoir County Sheriff's spokesman Maj. Chris Hill, who signed off on the original permit approving the location and application, also could not be reached for comment this morning.

Club 55 El Abuelo is a 15,000-square-foot night club and amusement center on a 28-acre tract just across the Wayne-Lenoir county line.