Bottoms Up

Neighbors toast a rare victory as the city turns down a liquor-license application.

Proving the desire for an additional restaurant or bar is more nebulous. "Since the city can't deny a liquor license on speculative issues like parking or crime, it's hard to figure out what you can define as a desire," says Kelly Pietrs, an attorney who specializes in liquor-license cases and who represented the neighbors--her father among them.

But Assistant City Attorney Kory Nelson says that while the city can't deny a license based on parking problems alone, residents can testify that they don't desire a new restaurant in their neighborhood because parking will be an issue, a subtle but important difference. "I don't think there's an advantage for [liquor-license] applicants. The state liquor code states that the applicant has the burden of proof," he says.

Sadwith believes the numbers tell the real story. Of the 42 liquor-license applications filed last year, none were denied and only one was withdrawn. And liquor-license approvals have far outweighed denials throughout the decade. In 1990, for example, 72 liquor license applications were submitted; of those, 67 were approved, two were denied and three were withdrawn, according to city records.

On June 7, the city granted Ziggie's Saloon, at 4923 West 38th Avenue, a dance and cabaret license despite protest from neighbors who complained about past criminal activity at the former biker bar. The excise and licenses department ruled that the hangout's previous problems didn't have any bearing on the current application and allowed Ziggie's to have dancing. In addition, the number of protesters was small, Nelson says.

The city also sided with a liquor license applicant in another case that involved neighborhood opposition. Two years ago, 761 people signed a petition against the Cherry Tomato's liquor-license application. The Park Hill residents who testified against it said traffic to and from the restaurant would pose a safety risk to children playing at a park across the street. They also claimed that the Cherry Tomato, at 4645 East 23rd Avenue, would ruin the character of the residential neighborhood and cause noise and parking problems. Excise and licenses director Beth McCann granted the license, noting that "the protestants' evidence, while credible, does not justify denial of the license." City records indicate that there were 1,049 in favor of the license.

But neighbors have prevailed in a couple of recent liquor-license disputes in which parking, litter and disturbance concerns came into play. In April, 333 residents of the East Montclair neighborhood signed a petition opposing Gigi's Lounge, a sports bar proposed for a vacant space at 1452 Uinta Street. Supporters of the lounge numbered 354. Last month, the license was denied.

On June 30, McCann overturned a hearing officer's recommendation to grant a cabaret license to Garbo's, at 266 South Downing Street. The club's owner sought the license so he could allow singing and piano and jazz music. Although the owner promised to end the music at midnight and to keep the doors closed during live entertainment, more than 500 Washington Park residents opposed the license; only 154 supported it. Those who testified against it argued that with the addition of music would come increased noise, traffic and people in the neighborhood late at night.

The hearing officer concluded that "while serious, some of the concerns raised by the witnesses were speculative and may not actually occur," adding that "the law is not crystal clear with regard to issues that may be raised in a liquor license hearing and that there is little case law addressing the types of concerns that should be considered in a cabaret hearing."

The city's cabaret ordinance allows more latitude in weighing neighborhood concerns than does the state law governing liquor licenses, and takes into account the "health, or welfare, or morals of the neighborhood." McCann denied the license, stating in her final order that "some of the issues that may be raised such as parking and traffic, even though speculative, have bearing on the issue of the desire of neighbors for a license."

More neighborhood strife is brewing now over Copacabana, a dance club proposed for the building once occupied by the Organ Grinder, a defunct pizza joint on Alameda Avenue and Zuni Street. Denver City Councilwoman Ramona Martinez says that in the ten years the Athmar Neighborhood Association has been working with the city and the Denver Urban Renewal Authority to develop the Alameda Square Shopping Center, never has there been a desire from the community to have a dance club; there is already a teen hall, where dances are held, on the southeast corner of the shopping center. A liquor- and cabaret-license hearing was held last week, and Martinez is confident that the licenses will be denied.

The most enduring example of a neighborhood's success at preventing a business from getting a liquor license is Dottie's Social Club ("Dry Society," November 20, 1997). For sixteen years, Park Hill resident Dottie Grisby has been trying to turn her club into a place where older patrons can get together and drink. But every two years, when she is allowed to apply again, her request for a liquor license is shot down--neighbors band together and sign petitions opposing her club, claiming their need and desire for alcoholic beverages is already satisfied by other liquor stores and restaurants in the area. Last week, Grisby submitted her latest applications for a tavern liquor license and a cabaret license. The hearing officer is expected to make a decision by the end of the month.

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