The Brookhaven City Council could be ready to repeal and replace its current alcohol ordinance according to its agenda for the Aug. 28 meeting. While specifics are unclear, the consideration follows a request by the Pink Pony strip club to do so and a pending federal lawsuit that alleges the ordinance is unconstitutional.
The agenda for the council’s work session on Tuesday, Aug. 28, includes an item to discuss the alcohol ordinance. The council’s regular meeting agenda includes an item to vote on “Consideration and Approval of an Ordinance Repealing and Replacing the Alcohol Ordinance Chapter.”
There are currently no documents available to review on what exactly the council will be voting on because they are “under legal review,” according to the agenda.
The council’s decision to take a closer look at the current alcohol ordinance follows a request from Pink Pony attorney Aubrey Villines’ request nearly two weeks ago for the council to return to the old alcohol ordinance and hold off enforcing the regulations of the new ordinance that went into effect this year.
The Pink Pony’s request came after a federal judge recently ruled to allow a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Josephine, XS Restaurant & Lounge and Medusa Restaurant & Lounge to move forward. The three venues claim the city is discriminating against the black-owned clubs. Their argument in part states the new ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause because it allowed the white-owned Pink Pony to stay open until 4 a.m. seven days a week.
After that ruling, however, the city decided Aug. 1 it would enforce its 2 a.m. last call at the Pink Pony and only allow the strip club to serve alcohol on Sundays until midnight so that it is treated the same as other nightlife venues.
Cary Wiggins, attorney for Josephine, XS Restaurant & Lounge and Medusa Restaurant & Lounge, wrote an Aug. 17 letter to City Attorney Chris Balch saying his clients supported the Pink Pony’s request.
“I am once again writing with hope to find common ground to resolve this dispute,” Wiggins wrote in the letter.
“At the very least, I believe the suggestions and amendments submitted by Mr. Villines are a roadmap for settlement of the issues between the city and my client,” Wiggins added.
Villines said the Pink Pony recommended the city levy a $50,000 alcohol license fee for extra serving hours. He said he wants the city to return to its former pouring times of Monday through Friday of 9 a.m. to 4 a.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. and Sunday from 12:30 p.m. to 3 a.m. The extra money from the $50,000 fees could go specifically toward police services, he said.
The city’s new regulations include the rolling back of hours to 2 a.m. and the creation of a new “entertainment venue” category requiring establishments with a DJ, dance floor or stage pay a $100,000 alcohol license fee and not sell alcohol on Sundays. Before, venues could get alcohol licenses for approximately $5,000.
The Pink Pony was at first considered exempt from the new ordinance because of a settlement agreement it reached with the city in 2014. Under the terms of that agreement, which expires in 2019, the Pink Pony pays the city of Brookhaven $225,000 annually and could remain open until 4 a.m. and sell alcohol on Sundays.
Villines also recommended the city eliminate the definition of “entertainment venue” and eliminate the $100,000 alcohol license fee. Those issues address the equal protection argument raised in the federal judge’s ruling, he said.
The new alcohol ordinance and its creation of “entertainment venues” was in response to high number of police calls to the establishments, according to city officials.
But since the ordinance was put in place, it has caused serious trouble for the city, including the federal lawsuit.
Arif Lounge also won its appeal to the city’s Alcohol Board after the city decided to suspend its alcohol license after claiming the popular hookah lounge was an “entertainment venue” subject to a $100,000 alcohol license fee.
Arif Lounge was one of several Buford Highway businesses targeted by the fire marshal and police in April for life safety checks. During the check, city officials said a police officer’s body camera footage showed Arif Lounge had a disc jockey booth and dance floor.
However, members of the Alcohol Board said in their ruling they did not see any evidence of a dance floor in the body cam footage and based their decision on the fire marshal’s testimony that he did not see a disc jockey or dance floor.
The agreements state the venues will remove their DJ booths, stages and dance floors, according to city officials. By doing so, they will no longer be classified as “entertainment venues” and subject to the hefty $100,000 alcohol license fees.