2012-05-10 / Front Page

PAC Club’s liquor license suspended

Alcohol board gives the two parties involved until noon Friday to sort things out
BY PHIL ZAHODIAKIN

The town’ s Alcoholic Beverage Licensing Board this week temporarily suspended the Portuguese American Citizens Club’s liquor license, but decided to grant the club and its tenant – the Jamestown Tavern – 3 1/2 days to address a number of violations. The most serious offense is that it was found that the restaurant has been selling liquor without a license of its own.

Some of this complicated story unfolded during a hearing on May 7, but there are more discussions to come. The purpose of this week’s hearing was establishing the facts of the allegations and deciding what to do if the allegations were sustained.

The PAC Club’s attorney, John Murphy, persuaded the board that the club and the tavern should be granted a few days to resolve the problems that raised the red flags. Under the initial decision of the board, which could have revoked the liquor license, the club has until noon on Friday, May 11, to submit the paperwork, including a signed lease, necessary to transfer its liquor license to the tavern.

But that doesn’t mean that the club can sell alcohol if the deadline is met. That’s because the board suspended the club’s liquor license until Monday, May 21, at which point the board will resume its May 7 hearing.

The problems that sparked the hearing weren’t limited to the lack of a license transfer. The other major issue is the lack of a tavern lease, despite the building’s name change, which means that tavern employees may have been selling alcohol in the absence of PAC Club’s principals.

If true, it means that the employees were effectively selling alcohol without a liquor license.

However, in his arguments for a continuance, Murphy said that “the PAC remains in control of the building” and that “the leaders of the PAC are in there regularly,” which means that any alcohol sold since the tavern started operating in the building was sold under the PAC license. But members of the Alcoholic Beverage Licensing Board, who are town councilors, wanted to know why the club and the tavern haven’t managed to sign a lease or apply for a license transfer during the two months that the tavern has been in the premises.

“There have been some issues with the lease and I believe that they will all be resolved within a day or two,” said Murphy.

Although the board didn’t invite the public to speak during the deliberations, the board was in receipt of a letter from a neighbor, John Lawless, who said that the noise from the club has become “more intense” and “much more objectionable” since the tavern started running the bar.

“It was not so many years ago that the PAC was actually a club with memberships, and the PAC was always a low-key operation that regularly was not even opened on many weeknights,” the letter read. “I feel that the current operator is marketing and operating the premises as a showcase destination that is attracting much more traffic than traditionally occurred here. This is evidenced by radio and Internet advertising.”

Lawless also pointed out that the club is in an area zoned for residential uses, and that “many property owners immediately adjacent to this property are raising young children, myself included. I am opposed to attracting a greater use to a nonconforming use in a residential setting.”

The nuisance complaints, which brought police officers to the club, led to the disclosure of the legal problems. But the police visits also established two other violations: the presence of an outside bar and the presence of illuminated “faux palm trees.” The outdoor bar is prohibited under the Class B liquor license held by the PAC, and the fake trees are an “alteration” prohibited by the town ordinance without a special-use permit.

Police Chief Ed Mello told the board that he was initially surprised by the nuisance complaints because the problems didn’t align “with the way the PAC has traditionally conducted itself.” Mello also said that an individual identifi ed as the owner of the tavern told him that he has a lease for the property and the business.

Mello told the board that, as far as he knew, the illuminated trees had been taken down, although he wasn’t sure if the outdoor bar has been removed. Murphy informed the board that the outdoor bar is in the process of being removed.

Although Mello said he was not opposed to a continuance for the hearing, board member Bill Murphy said the situation had placed him, the town and the Holy Ghost Society – which is the PAC parent – in a bad position.

“The [society and the PAC Club] are my friends,” said Councilor Murphy. “They’re good people. But it’s been months and there still hasn’t been any application.”

He continued by saying, “I’m hearing that the outdoor bar is being removed. I’d have thought there would have been a good faith effort to have the bar removed by tonight’s hearing. My wife’s grandfather helped build that place and I agree with the chief. The history of the PAC is not what’s going on now.”

Although the board members agreed that the charges against the tavern had been sustained by the evidence presented by the chief, they voted unanimously to allow a little more time for the issues to be resolved. But that doesn’t mean that the board will rubber-stamp the license transfer because the evidence for the nuisance complaints still must be heard, and it’s highly likely that those complaints will be reflected in the terms of any decision to grant a license to the tavern. Those terms are sure to include noise mitigation.

As Lawless wrote, “I work for a living, and as most people that wake early to go to work, we need to go to sleep at a reasonable hour. The noise emanating from this property routinely disturbs sleep even in cold weather with windows closed. If I were to make the type of noise at late hours that the current operation does, I would not at all be surprised if my neighbors complained.”

Lawless wants the board to seriously address the noise problem when it deliberates the decision as to the “disposition or limitation of the license.”

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