City Hall meeting called to clarify rules for Ward 14 bar owners
by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, February 2007) At the end of a recent City Hall meeting between Ward 14 bar owners, police and city officials, Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago promised to put together a packet of information on the various license and variance requirements bar owners need to adhere to operate legally. In addition Santiago promised to facilitate better communication between city departments. Asked about the police and license and assessments not always being aware of variance rulings by the Board of Zoning Appeals, Santiago said, “As soon as the Board of Zoning Appeals makes a ruling it will be distributed to all different departments.”

Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago invited Ward 14 bar owners to a meeting at City Hall on January 18th to “rid ourselves of innuendoes that are going on” and to help “business owners who want to operate legally.” Invited to meet with the bar owners were Second District Commander Charles Boddy and Second District Vice Detective John Graves. Representatives of the City of Cleveland Law Department and Community Relations Department were also in attendance.

Bar owners attended from Envy Lounge, Club Argos, La Copa and Latin Touch. Of those, Envy Lounge, Club Argos and La Copa had recently been cited for liquor law violations.

The owner of Latin Touch on Storer Avenue said people playing music at her club told her they had all the licenses they needed, “The only reason I know I need a license for my place is the fire inspectors came and told me. Business owners need to know what kind of license we need. What kind of permit we need and the steps needed to get the permit.” Detective Graves explained that a DJ or music company get licenses or permits to operate in the city of Cleveland; however, the club itself also needs separate permits for a dance hall as well as  a certificate of occupancy.

Detective Graves said he noticed some bar owners were hanging up the receipt from License and Assessments in their bar. Bar owners indicated that they were told when they paid for the license that it would come in the mail.

Graves stressed that payment of the fee does not mean that the license would be approved. The license would have to go through the various channels to get approval, including the various police commanders, the safety director and the Board of Zoning Appeals. Detective Graves noted all permits except a music permit required that the permit be approved before the use was allowed.

Owners of Envy Lounge said they had paid their fee and had been given a receipt for a dance hall permit and a permit number from licenses and assessments. “Why didn’t the lady in permits say that?” they protested when Graves told them the permit was not yet approved.

However, Envy Lounge’s pleas of ignorance might appear dubious, given the fact that Board of Zoning Appeals (BOZA) had already made clear to them that they didn’t qualify for a variance to run a nightclub. Thus, they would not qualify for a dance hall permit, which would allow live music, a DJ and dancing. The club at 2132 W. 25th was turned down in its request for a variance for a nightclub due to lack of sufficient parking and its proximity to a residential neighborhood.

Although Envy Lounge was denied the variance at a November 13th Board of Zoning Appeals meeting, it continued to operate as a nightclub. The club was openly advertising a DJ in Scene Magazine almost a month after the BOZA ruling.

Following up on information that Envy was operating as a nightclub without the proper permit, Detective Graves said that six Second District vice unit officers went to visit Envy Lounge for an inspection on Thursday, January11th. The club was cited for having a DJ.  In addition police confiscated a firearm. As they entered the door, Graves said the security guard began running through the place saying, “The police are here.” When that happened, Graves explained, procedure called for the officers to inspect the entire place. They then found an Envy staff member in the basement with an unregistered firearm. The officers confiscated the firearm. Graves advised bar owners to continue business as usual when plainclothes officers come in for a liquor inspection.

Club Argos’s owner said his bar was recently cited for serving an underage drinker. He said the person the police were using looked over 21. He asked that the police use a person that looks younger. He also wondered if his bar at 2032 W. 25th was being targeted because it was serving gay clientele. Detective Graves indicated that his bar was the fourth stop that evening and the first three bars carded the same person that Club Argos served a drink to. The owner of Club Argos said the club was also cited for not having a dance hall permit. He said he then went out and got one. Detective Graves questioned whether the permit had gone through all the channels and had been approved already. He indicated the final approved permit is blue.

The owner of La Copa on Clark Avenue indicated she had applied for a dance hall permit back in June and it had not yet been approved. Graves told her it would not be approved because her club had been denied a variance to run a nightclub.

Graves noted he had talked to the owner’s boyfriend when the vice squad was called to the club for an illegal party before the club obtained its liquor license. He said he gave the owner’s boyfriend his number to call if he had any questions about the permits needed. Graves said he never received a call. Graves said the vice squad was called again when neighbors of the club noticed cars parked in front for a second party. He said the club still didn’t have the proper permits on the second visit.

Bar owners questioned Second District Commander Boddy as to whether there was harassment and selective enforcement of their establishments which served minority communities – African American, Hispanic and gay clientele – while police let other establishments slide. Commander Boddy explained that police were responding to “numerous complaints” about liquor establishments in the neighborhood. He explained, “If I get a complaint about your establishment. I have to respond.” The Commander said the bars would save police a lot of time if they would secure the proper licenses for their businesses. He said if bars are reported operating without the proper licenses his officers have to go out. He urged the bar owners to go to Licenses and Assessments and get the licenses they need. He said if they know of other establishments not operating legally they can report them. Commander Boddy said enforcement directed at liquor establishments on W. 25th and the in the Flats has stepped up since incidents at the now closed Club Moda drew attention to nightclubs.

Representatives of Envy Lounge, located at W. 25th and Chatham, had a lot to say concerning their relationship to the neighborhood. They contended that they were trying to co-exist with the neighborhood. They said they improved lighting on W. 25th to make the area safer and hired security. The owners inquired as to how they could hire 2nd District Police officers for security. Commander Boddy said they needed to contact the agency from which they hired their security. The owners contended that they were not drug dealers or criminals and were not a problem establishment.

An Envy Lounge’s representatives said that, per an agreement with the community, his patrons don’t park on the side street. He then tried to blame Voss industries for the lounge’s failure to secure adequate parking. He said he went to Voss personally to talk about using their parking lot. He said he offered to work together with them and pay rent and provide security if Envy could use their parking lot. He said Voss rejected his offer and said don’t use the parking lot. He contended that the killing of an Envy customer in Voss’s parking lot may not have happened if Voss had let them rent the lot and provide security. Envy’s owner contended that the Voss parking lot was empty. Envy’s owner failed to mention the testimony at the BOZA hearing by Voss’s executives that the 260-employee company ran three shifts and the parking lot was in use at night until the murder occurred in the parking lot last summer. Voss executives testified at the BOZA hearing that Voss employees are now fearful of parking in the company-owned lot. Voss executives said they closed the lot. Upset that Envy patrons are still parking there, the company is towing cars that park in the lot.

Envy’s owners complained that a police officer used racist language when referring to African American patrons of the club. Second District Commander Boddy urged bar owners to report officers making racist comment and he would make sure they were disciplined. The club owners suggested that neighbors complaining about the club didn’t want the club open and had a vendetta against Councilman Joe Santiago and were taking it out on the club. One Envy representative said, “We do everything right. We have an upscale club.”

The Envy contingent also complained that Ohio City Near West Safety Director Bob Shores instigated a problem by calling them an illegal business on one of the Ohio City Yahoo Groups. The Envy owner insisted that Envy was a legal business and that Shore was “creating problems where there were no problems.” He said one person in the Yahoo Group, the Vigilante, was threatening to report the club owners to homeland security.

One Envy owner also indicated that about eight months ago a neighbor on W. 26th Street claimed his patrons had broken his car windows. He said he gave the guy $200. The guy came back and tried to get him to buy his house.  He said at the same house young teens drive around the block at 1:30 a.m. and people blame the noise on the bar patrons. Second District Commander Boddy promised to look into the complaint.

 

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