Horton’s previous application for a conditional use to sell alcohol at his restaurant was denied unanimously by the City Council on June 28. The City Planning Commission staff had recommended denial, saying the building’s long counter could easily be converted into a bar and that its takeout operations are suggestive of fast-food restaurants, which are not allowed to sell alcohol. Finally, city officials also noted the opposition of the Coliseum Square Association — the neighboring Irish Channel Neighborhood Association was more receptive to the proposal, but deferred to Coliseum Square since the building is technically in their boundaries.
At a council meeting on Nov. 30 — after Horton was eliminated from the District B council race, but before the Dec. 8 runoff — interim Councilwoman Diana Bajoie recommended that Horton’s request be sent back to the City Planning Commission for a second review, this time for a permit that would allow only beer and wine — not hard liquor. Such a request by the City Council would have accelerated the process for Horton and spared him from having to pay the filing fees a second time.
City Councilwoman Stacy Head, however, objected to the move, saying it would set a “dangerous precedent” of allowing people multiple chances to request changes that neighborhoods object to. It is difficult for residents to galvanize themselves into action on an issue, she said, and it is unfair to force them to return to City Hall so many times for something that has already been dealt with.
“It is problematic, in my opinion, to allow people multiple bites at the apple in a short time period,” Head said.
If beer and wine is all Horton wanted to sell originally, that’s what he should have requested the first time, Head said. Bajoie said her understanding was that Horton didn’t realize that the permits would be different, but said she didn’t oppose tabling the discussion until later.
“It’s no big deal to me one way or the other, because I didn’t vote on it the first time,” Bajoie said.
The council deferred the Finger Lick’n Wings agenda item at its Dec. 6 meeting, and did so again without comment on Thursday, which was LaToya Cantrell’s first meeting as a councilwoman. Dan Rauch, chief of staff to Cantrell, said that after only two days in office, Cantrell has not yet had time to evaluate the issue.
“We really want to make sure we hear from all the stakeholders, from Buck, and from the community before we make any sort of decision on it,” Rauch said.
The issue is now scheduled for Jan. 10 meeting. Horton said in an interview Friday morning that he believes the fate of his request rests with the Coliseum Square Association. On one hand, he said, it is an unfair burden, because his restaurant literally sits on the association boundary line, far from most of its members.
“Ten steps away, and I’m out of Coliseum Square,” Horton said. “If I walk out to the neutral ground, I’m not even in the Coliseum Square Association anymore.”
On the other hand, the vote at the association was close last spring, 8-7 against Horton. With the connections forged by his council campaign (Horton said he’s enlisted the help of both his former opponents Dana Kaplan and Eric Strachan, who have ties to both neighborhoods) and a request for a less-intensive alcohol permit, Horton said he hopes he can win over the association when they next meet.
To watch the Nov. 30 discussion between Head and Bajoie about the request, see the video below: