As the owners of Jimmy’s Music Club continue to seek the reopening of their landmark Willow Street venue, they are employing an unusual legal strategy to get around the temporary ban on new alcohol licenses in the Carrollton area.
Instead of asking the City Council to grant them an exception to the moratorium, they are asking the city’s alcohol commissioners to rule that the latest iteration of that moratorium is illegal altogether and thus inapplicable to Jimmy’s.
Last month, over the objections of club owner Jimmy Anselmo and his supporters, the City Council passed a moratorium that requires any business in the Carrollton area seeking an alcohol license to come before the council first. The temporary ban is intended as a stopgap until the new Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance is approved, but as that process has dragged on, a previous version of it expired. Because city law prohibits an outright extension of a moratorium beyond two years, Councilwoman Susan Guidry’s office altered the new ban’s boundaries to exclude some streets on the far north and east sides, but Jimmy’s location at 8200 Willow Street remained within it.
For the majority of the moratorium’s existence, the Willow Street spot wasn’t the Jimmy’s of legend. Instead, it was leased by Anselmo to a bar called the Frat House, which Guidry said last month had been such a disturbance to neighbors that it was ultimately shut down after an NOPD raid found 29 underage patrons inside. After the proposed new operator of Jimmy’s Music Club — a company called Lucky Tab LLC — applied for a liquor permit last summer, they were denied in December on the basis of the existing moratorium.
Many Carrollton-area businesses have opened with alcohol sales in the past few years in spite of the moratorium, including Oak Wine Bar, Tru Burger, Cowbell and the upcoming Mellow Mushroom. Usually, they have first met with the local neighborhood associations, hammered out a “good-neighbor agreement” that restricts their hours and imposes noise and litter restrictions, and then been given a waiver to the moratorium from the City Council.
Jimmy’s, however, is taking a different route, attorney Mike Tifft told the Alcohol Beverage Control board on Tuesday. Because the city code says that liquor-license permits that are denied can be appealed to the Alcohol Beverage Control board, Tifft said he plans to request such an appeal based on the premise that the moratorium was extended illegally.
In short, Tifft is asking the commissioners to overrule the moratorium, noted Commission Chair Rocky Seydel.
“You’re asking us in effect to rule on something that the City Council has already entered their opinion on, so it’s a matter of some moment, of some weight,” Seydel said.
Commissioner Jerry Speir, who also negotiates good-neighbor agreements with Oak Street businesses as a member of the Carrollton-Riverbend Neighborhood Association, suggested that Jimmy’s pursue the more conventional path of a moratorium waiver, and moved to deny hearing the appeal.
“Either way it’s going to cost you money, take you time,” Speir said of the moratorium waiver. “I don’t think it’s a burdensome or inappropriate process.”
Commissioner Nyka Scott said she wanted more information on the appeal, however, and Seydel asked city attorneys to file a written response to Tifft’s petition. The matter is now set for the March 19 meeting.
This is not the first unconventional strategy that Jimmy’s has employed in trying to reopen. Previously, Tifft said he asked Guidry to allow the previous moratorium to lapse and wait a short time before enacting a new one, essentially creating a window in which Jimmy’s could receive a liquor license. Because the City Council went forward with the new moratorium, Tifft told the board he feels compelled to challenge it in its entirety. They don’t currently have plans to seek a waiver, Tifft said.
“In my years of practice, the council defers to the wishes of the neighborhood association,” Tifft said after the meeting. “We see that as a dead-end avenue.”
The mayor’s office also characterized Tifft’s strategy as a challenge to the moratorium, and Tyler Gamble, a spokesman for Mayor Landrieu’s office, said after the meeting that their belief is that the Alcohol Beverage Control board “is not the proper body to take on that argument.”
[Update, 8:54 p.m. Tuesday: Kelly Butler, the land-use specialist in Councilwoman Guidry's office, wrote in an email that, "I have not seen the motion submitted by Lucky Tab, LLC and the video of today's meeting is not yet available online, so I cannot comment directly on the hearing held today. I have met with Mr. Anselmo and other interested parties in this matter and have determined that the issues involving the status of the subject property are varied and complex. I question whether the ABO board is the appropriate forum for determination of these issues."]
Club owner Anselmo, who is battling cancer, did not attend Tuesday’s hearing because of a doctor’s appointment, his wife said.
Among other Uptown issues before the board, nuisance charges against both Grits bar and The Uptowner banquet hall were postponed until March as well. The case against the Chippewa Food Store was dismissed, as city officials said they had done some investigation on the establishment but that a case against it was placed on the docket by mistake.
To read our live coverage of the meeting, see below: