La Copa appeal turned down by Board of Zoning Appeals
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, June 2007) The La Copa Sports Bar, 2704 Clark Avenue, went before the Cleveland Board of Zoning Appeals (BOZA) on April 30th to appeal decisions by the Commissioner of Assessments and Licenses that denied the club a dance hall license and a music permit based on the recommendation of the City of Cleveland Safety Department. In a unanimous decision BOZA denied the appeal. BOZA board member Ozell Dobbins II summed up the ruling saying “the decision of the Commissioner was correct, not arbitrary or capricious.”
At the hearing, Second District Vice Detective John Graves noted the club is charged with violation of state liquor laws for serving alcohol at a party held at La Copa in October of 2006, before it obtained a liquor license. The case is pending in criminal court, said Graves.
Graves said that after being denied a nightclub variance by the Board of Zoning Appeals (BOZA hearing August 21, 2006), La Copa continued to operate illegally by holding live entertainment parties. He cited two occasions, March 17th and April 19th, when illegal parties were held at the facility. “At each party,” Graves said, “they told me the Councilman (Ward 14 Councilman Joe Santiago) said it was ok to have the event.” Graves added, “They have to understand the Councilman is not the law.”
Graves noted that because of the BOZA hearing denying the variance for a night club, La Copa did not qualify for a dance hall license, was turned down by the Building Department, and could not host live music. He cited entertainment advertised on 107.9 FM as an example of how La Copa was defying the BOZA ruling.
Graves also noted the involvement in the business of Raed Sadik. Sadik, the husband or boyfriend of La Copa owner Gennie Rodriguez, said Graves, has several felony convictions and the lease agreement with the landlord (Gerald Zahler) is with both Sadik and Rodriguez.
City of Cleveland staff noted that license application grounds for denial include “any persons named in the application are not of good moral character.” The city staff noted that the person doesn’t have to be a convicted felon to deny the application.
Kent Minshall, attorney for Gennie Rodriguez, contended that the denial of the permits was “capricious” and stressed that Rodriquez was the owner, not Sadik. He said the music from the party advertised on the radio came from radio station 107.9 and was not live at the bar. He said the liquor violations came from a private party and were being contested in criminal court.
In asking that the permit denials be reversed, Minshall said La Copa would like to be able to play the jukebox and, when it gets the proper approval, also have video games and coin-operated machines. He said the Councilman endorsed the project and that five houses within 500 feet of La Copa have all signed their approval. Minshall said there was one fight outside of the bar, but no complaints or problems within the bar.
Dedrick Stephens, the Commissioner of Assessments and Licenses, testified that standard operating procedure for permit approval required review by Police, Fire, Health and the Building and Housing Department. He said both Police and Building & Housing denied the dance hall license. The music permit was denied by the Police Department. Commissioner Stephens said the music permit covers “any type of music where no dancing takes place.”
Detective Graves said the citations were issued because La Copa was operating without proper licenses and permits. He has no problem with Raed Sadik, he said, “every time we have been there, Mr. Sadik does all the talking for the bar.” Detective Graves, however, expressed concern that Sadik says he is not the manager of the bar. He advised Rodriguez, “Name a manager. We have to have a name.”
City of Cleveland staff noted the operating permit issued October 16, 2006 limits the facility to 75 people and attaches special conditions of “no dancing or live entertainment.”
Detective Graves says he has no objection to having music in a sports bar if the music permit is approved. He said his objection is to the dance hall license, which is in violation of the conditions of the variance.
BOZA board member Dobbins said that the decision to deny the music permit was based on “what happened before. If the situation has changed, the appellant can reapply for a music license.”
Commissioner Stephens’ explanation of what would be allowed with a music permit seems to be in conflict with the law department and the zoning administrator’s public statements at prior variance appeals over the past several years. It is clear from past meetings that a club must have a legal use prior to getting a license or permit.
At an August 16th public meeting on La Copa’s original variance request to create a nightclub, the law department representatives explained that without applying for a variance La Copa would not be allowed entertainment and/or amusement because of its location in a residential neighborhood. Their definition included any live bands, DJ’s and/or dancing.
Ward 14 resident Henry Senyak, who has closely followed the variance hearings of various bars and nightclubs in the neighborhood, says “The Law Department needs to mandate what needs to be done and Building and Housing and Licenses and Assessments need to be on the same page. Too many clubs are popping up and operating outside their legal use in Ward 14. The operation of these clubs constitutes a clear and present danger to the surrounding residential communities.”
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