2013-3-7 Liquor License Transfer Hearing Minutes

MINUTES
HAZLETON CITY COUNCIL
LIQUOR LICENSE TRANSFER HEARING
THURSDAY, MARCH 7, 2013

Council met in special session regarding the transfer of a liquor license on Thursday, March 7, 2013. The meeting was called to order by Perry at 5:00 p.m.

Council members Perry, Bast, Mope, Mundie, and Schadder were present.

This hearing was held regarding the inter-municipal transfer of Liquor License No. R-5450 from Kathleen Falatko t/a Jake's Corner Café of Freeland, Pennsylvania, presently being held in safekeeping, to Hazleton Heights Entertainment, LLC for premises located at 601 South Poplar Street, Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

Attorney Anthony Lucadamo stated that according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board's laws and regulations, the City of Hazleton currently has more licenses than are allotted based upon its population. Therefore, approval from the governing body is required before the liquor license may be transferred. The premises are located adjacent to the grocery store in the Heights Plaza on Poplar Street. It is an empty space that had formerly been used as a restaurant. The owners are Joseph Fernandez and Ramon Fernandez. The restaurant has a 7,000 square foot seating area capable of seating 210 people, and a 1,600 square foot kitchen. Lucadamo gave Council photos of the restaurant area. There will be a buffet area. Lucadamo said this move will put new business in an empty space, which will provide jobs, revenue for the City, and will make larger projects more viable. It will revitalize the area.

Schadder asked what the business model is, and Lucadamo said it will be a buffet-style restaurant that will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. It will not be a nightclub or sports bar. Perry asked what the hours will be, but Lucadamo was not sure. He said that alcohol can be legally served between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m., and food will be served until there are no more customers. Mope asked what the name will be, and Lucadamo did not have an answer. Mope asked if they would consider expanding, and Lucadamo replied that the liquor license is for a specific area only, so to do that they would need to go back to the Liquor Control Board. Mope said most business owners open the restaurant first, and then apply for a liquor license, not the other way around. Lucadamo said that some need them right away, and other do not. Schadder asked Slusser if stipulations could be put in place with regard to the approval of the liquor license. Slusser said yes. Schadder asked if the owners feel it would create a hardship if the hours of operation were limited. Lucadamo said that it could be, but they will not know until the restaurant is open. Schadder commenting that it is challenging to grant this transfer, because there is no definite business plan in place.

Bill Biplob, who will be operating the restaurant, said that it will be a diner-concept, buffet-style restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He said he also operates the supermarket in the same building, and that closes at 9:00 p.m. He does not intend to stay open past 10:00 p.m., but it would depend on the circumstances. He said he would like to open the restaurant at 7:00 a.m. Schadder asked if it would create a hardship should this transfer be denied. Biplob said yes, because they are trying to create more revenue, and the supermarket cannot carry the weight. Biplob commented that this may be the reason the other restaurant closed. Mope said you cannot say that because there are other restaurants open that do not have liquor licenses. Lucadamo said once a license is transferred to another municipality, that license cannot be transferred out of that municipality for five years. Lucadamo said the owners/operators would be agreeable to having restrictions placed on the operating hours of the restaurant. Perry asked what type of alcohol will be served there, and Lucadamo replied beer, wine and hard liquor. Schadder asked about the sale of six-packs to individuals. Lucadamo replied that it is legal as per the Liquor Code to sell up to two six-packs to one individual to go, but hard liquor and wine cannot be sold to go. Slusser agreed with that. Schadder asked about the zoning, and Lucadamo said it is zoned industrial as per the Zoning Map. Schadder said that a restaurant is not a permitted use for an industrial area. Lucadamo said that a restaurant and store have already been in there before. Mope felt that was a mistake on the City's part for allowing that. Slusser said that Council could make the transfer contingent on zoning, occupancy permits, etc. Mope asked if Lucadamo felt his representation could present a conflict of interest if there were a zoning hearing because he is the Zoning Boards solicitor. Lucadamo replied that he would not represent the applicant in a Zoning Board hearing.

At this point, Perry asked if there were any public comments.

Sylvia Thomas, 409 West 6th Street, Hazleton commented that laws are in place that only allow for a certain number of bars in the City. That is one bar for every 3,000 people, and there about 25,000 people in Hazleton, so there should only be eight bars. Thomas said there are currently approximately 26 bars in Hazleton. Perry said that there are currently 54 liquor licenses in Hazleton, but this figure includes restaurants and bars. Thomas felt that this would be another drain on the City's police force because officers are posted at nightclubs on weekends.

Betsy Durso, no address given, Hazleton said a restaurant is a good idea for that area, but she has a problem with the liquor license. There are a lot of elderly people living in that area, who would not want to have to deal with that. She said the original plans for the Pocono Market Fair included a bar/nightclub in the building. Schadder asked if she would be okay with Council placing limitations on the operating hours of the restaurant, and Durso responded yes. Schadder asked Durso if she felt her concerns were addressed at this hearing, and she replied yes.

A gentleman whose name was inaudible said that he lives near there, and he is opposed to the liquor license transfer. He said there are too many bars in Hazleton already, and there are always fights and shootings when liquor is involved.

Robert Sefin(?), no address given, Hazleton said he lives two blocks away from the Heights Plaza. He said a restaurant would be fine, but not a bar. There are too many fights and shootings around the bars. He is opposed to the liquor license transfer.

Schadder asked if customers can bring in their own alcoholic beverages if a restaurant does not have a liquor license. Lucadamo replied yes, and there are no limitations. Lucadamo asked that Council and the community give the owners "the benefit of the doubt," and "not paint them with same intentions" as other individuals. Mope asked where Lucadamo lives, and he replied around the corner from her on Johns Avenue.

Perry stated that the Resolution regarding this matter is on the agenda and will be voted on at the Council meeting immediately following the hearing.

Perry adjourned the meeting.