After a couple of months dry of alcohol issues, City Council granted the first all-new bar license Tuesday using the hearing process required by Statesboro’s new ordinance.
Under the city’s previous alcohol ordinance, the city clerk issued the licenses automatically to applicants who met basic requirements – such as not having recent felony records – and paid the fees. But the new ordinance, most parts of which took effect July 1, requires City Council to hold a hearing and decide whether to grant a license outright, deny it or grant it with conditions.
“This allows you some discretion,” City Attorney Alvin Leaphart told the council. “If you decide to grant a license where there may be particular problems associated with that location, you can impose conditions on the exercise of the privilege granted by the license to the extent necessary to minimize any adverse effects.”
Previously, council held alcohol hearings only for violations, such as serving alcohol to customers under age 21. Tuesday evening’s hearing at times sounded like one of those hearings.
Justin A. Clements, 25, who applied for and received a license to operate a bar called The Library at 125 Gata Drive, was not accused of any wrongdoing. But under the ordinance, the hearing process allows the council to consider the past of both the applicant and the business location.
In fact, the council is supposed to hear evidence on 10 factors. Some of these are the applicant’s reputation and any previous alcoholic beverage violations, how the location affects the surrounding neighborhood, prior incidents at the site requiring police intervention and the number of alcohol licenses in the area.
Clements, who arrived in Statesboro six years ago, previously worked at Gnat’s Landing and at the defunct Rude Rudy’s but has never been an owner or licensee. He applied in October 2014 for a license for the former Rude Rudy’s location, but then withdrew it.
Clements does have a misdemeanor arrest for furnishing alcohol to a customer under age 21 on his record. This happened Feb. 13, 2015, when he was a bartender and manager, he said, at Gnat’s Landing. On his Municipal Court date two months later, he pleaded guilty and paid a $725 fine.
During Tuesday’s council hearing, Clements’ attorney, Jay Dell of Greensboro, asked him to explain the infraction as they went down the list of 10 factors. Clements said the investigating officer in February 2015 told him a video showed that he had checked the young woman’s identification.
“But I guess I got in a hurry and misread her ID and still served her,” Clements said. “It was a mistake. I went and paid a fine, and I learned from that mistake.”
So Dell asked if Clements understood his responsibility and the consequences of serving to minors.
“Absolutely, it’s a big responsibility to have and something you should really pay attention to,” Clements said.
The previous bar at 125 Gata Drive, called Moonshiners, was operated by Farid Gharachorloo. His license for that location was suspended by City Council for three days in November 2015 for violation of the now eliminated requirement that businesses serving alcoholic drinks derive at least half of their revenue from non-alcohol items.
But Moonshiners closed completely soon after that, and Clements referred to it as having “got shut down.” Gharachorloo agreed to have his license for that location cancelled by an administrative judge while Moonshiners faced allegations of underage sales and other violations, Department of Revenue Special Agent in Charge Ronald Huckaby said when the newspaper contacted him.
Gharachorloo kept his license for neighboring Gata’s Sports Bar & Grille. Clements has no business relationship with him.
The license hearing for The Library took up more than an hour at two different intervals of Tuesday’s council meeting.
Several minutes of the presentation concerned Clements’ relationship with Walix Corporation, a construction firm based in Eatonton and owned by Donny Walloch. As part of Clements’ financial disclosure to the city, he initially supplied an Aug. 2 note he signed for a $30,000 loan from Walloch’s company, with a promise to repay Walloch $37,500 by Nov. 1, 2017, plus 20 percent of the bar’s profits for the year.
Meanwhile, Clements had signed an affidavit Aug. 1 stating that he will be 100 percent owner of The Library bar.
City Clerk Sue Starling designated Statesboro Police Capt. James Winskey to investigate the license application. Winskey said he interpreted the original loan, with its 25 percent interest charge and 20 percent profit share, as making Walloch a partner, and found that the Department of Revenue shared his interpretation. The city notified Clements of this concern.
With a Sept. 9 letter to the city, Walloch replaced the original promissory note with a new one Clements signed. The new loan is for $30,000 at 20 percent interest for the year amortized in monthly payments. But it provides no share of the profits to Walloch.
Walloch and Clements told the council that Walloch will have no ownership interest in The Library. Walloch, Clements and Winskey all testified under oath.
Walloch’s company has done work on bars and restaurants around Georgia. He owns one of them, Stagecoach in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, after he built it several years ago and recently bought it. A Georgia Southern University graduate, Walloch said he built Chops in Statesboro and some places in University Plaza.
Christian Bennett of Statesboro Life Restaurant Group, which owns the building at 125 Gata Drive, spoke in support of Clements’ application.
“He has shown me handbooks, policies and procedures on how he’s going to train his bouncing staff and security staff, what he’s going to do with his bartenders. …,” Bennett said. “I think this young man is prepared and he has been made well aware of the liabilities that come with this responsibility.”
Clements, who cited the $30,000 loan as his sole funding to start the business, is paying the city $4,275 for the annual license and Bennett $7,600 a month rent. After Mayor Jan Moore asked about the rent amount, Councilman Phil Boyum questioned the relevance, saying “I’m having trouble with some of this.”
“Having an alcohol license is a privilege and not a right, and also understand it’s going to be a large undertaking for you. …” Moore told Clements. “There’s a lot of obligations with having an alcohol license. It’s not cheap, and that’s the reason we ask these questions.”
Winskey described himself as a “finder of fact” and did not recommend approval or denial. He did recommend that the The Library, which has a food service permit but no kitchen, be approved as a 21-and-up establishment.
Interim Police Chief Robert Bryan also spoke, saying that police resources are strapped as it is, with many calls coming from establishments with alcohol licenses.
“That location has been a drain on resources, and we’d just like to point that out to council before making the decision,” Bryan said. “Any additions will drain the resources even further.”
With Councilman John Riggs absent, the license for the bar limited to patrons 21 and up was approved 4-0 on a motion by Travis Chance seconded by Jeff Yawn.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.