05/01/12 — Ruling: City strip club can sell beer

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Ruling: City strip club can sell beer

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on May 1, 2012 1:46 PM

In a reversal of a previous decision by the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, a judge within the state office of administrative hearings has determined that the Playground nightclub on North William Street should not have been denied its malt beverage license in October 2011.

An order allowing the club to get its ABC permit has not yet been drawn up and Tom Loflin III, the attorney who represented the club, said Monday that the order could take as long as a month to be issued.

Following the rejection of the permit, the proprietor of the business filed a petition on Nov. 30, 2011, which led to a hearing last week on the matter. Administrative Law Judge Beecher Gray heard testimony and discussion on the matter Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday of last week and ruled orally in favor of the petitioning party just before 1 p.m. Friday.

Loflin said Monday that the Playground establishment, under previous ownership, had closed in late 2010, when the owner terminated the lease. He said that, previous to the closing, that the nightclub had ABC permits to sell liquor, wine and beer.

"My client picked it up and refurbished the space in June of 2011 and sought -- not even a liquor permit -- just a beer permit, and that was turned down."

When the rejection decision was handed down Oct. 3, it cited the City of Goldsboro's recommendation to deny the license because of perceived detriments to the surrounding neighborhood. James Rowe, the city's assistant planning director, sent a letter to the ABC Commission objecting to the nightclub's pursuit of the permit, using loose figures which were attacked in the applicant's petition.

Alpha Vinson, the applicant, was identified in the letter as being an upright individual, although she was not going to run the club personally. Rowe wrote that she had identified Shannon Omelia to manage the club. Omelia's reputation was spotless as well, he wrote, outside of a few minor traffic issues, but he noted that she had some responsibility in managing Sid's Showgirls, an establishment which shares the same parking lot as the Playground.

The letter stated that Goldsboro police had been called to that joint parking lot "roughly 117 times," although no time period is offered during which those calls were made. Rowe said that the amount of complaint calls within the same, undisclosed time period was excessive compared to other bars.

Rowe admitted that Sid's Showgirls "may also be responsible for some of those calls for service."

In closing, he wrote the city's objection was "based on the location of the establishment and not the applicant."

The petitioning attorney seized on what he called ambiguities and inconsistencies in the city's argument, including the previous ABC license and existence of a similar establishment next door, to make a case that the neighborhood was an appropriate one in which the Playground could serve beer.

Although not binding or official, Loflin summarized the judge's verbal ruling which should be made official through written order sometime in the next month.

"The neighborhood in which the Playground operates and has been operating is a mixed neighborhood of heavy industry, lighter industry commercial businesses and some residential homes and the judge thought the ABC erred in saying the location was not suitable for an ABC license -- at least the one applied for which is just to serve beer," he said.

Loflin said the decision was so specific to the case in Goldsboro and in that neighborhood that he doesn't feel it will produce any precedent for future cases.

"Actually the decision is fairly mundane because what you've got is evidence about the neighborhood and the license applied for in this case," he said.

Judge Gray heard from three opponents to the permit who live in the neighborhood, the chief of police, another police officer, an ALE officer and Rowe, Loflin said.