When the Hinesville City Council held its first meeting of the year Thursday, it spent a significant amount of time discussing an old issue: the occupancy status of Tekilla Rose Bar and Grill.
Anita Rosen, who owns the business, has been frustrated at her attempts to open the restaurant and nightclub as she and the city have had disagreements over the permitted occupancy.
Richmond Hill attorney Christy Balbo spoke on Rosen’s behalf and summarized the case, saying that the fire marshal certified the building can have up to 487 people, though city ordinance limits the occupation for such a business to two people per parking space, which would allow occupancy of 252 according to the 126 parking spots available on the property.
Delete - Merge UpBalbo presented documentation that shows Rosen has entered a $1,000-per-month lease on 88 additional spots next door at Bassano’s Italian Eatery, which would create a total of 244 parking spots available to the property.
Balbo also asked the council to reconsider refunding Rosen’s 2011 alcohol license due to the business not opening, a request the board previously denied unanimously.
Delete - Merge Up“She’s sort of a victim of the process here …,” Balbo said. “She’s wasted a whole year of paying the mortgage on the building because she’s been unable to open.”
During discussion on the matter, City Manager Billy Edwards expressed concerns about the fact that the businesses will be sharing parking during some overlapping hours, which would lead to reduced potential occupancy for at least one of the businesses. He also said he was concerned about the use of off-site spaces contingent upon a lease.
“Most businesses … are not owner-occupied; they’re rented by renters, none of them who own their parking. They all have the pleasure of using spaces at the leisure of their landlords …,” Balbo said. “So, I’m going to offer that if the council says that she can’t use those spots ... then I would say you have to go back and take away every business license that you’ve given to a tenant. It’s the same theory.”
The city said it had offered Rosen a license, but Balbo said her understanding of the license document limited Rosen to a 252-person occupancy.
Some discussion ensued, and Councilman Keith Jenkins expressed some support for Rosen’s request. He suggested that the ordinance that allots occupancy of two per parking spot may need to be updated, because vehicles often carry more passengers.
Delete - Merge Mayor Jim Thomas asked Balbo and Rosen to provide a clearer proposal, including a comparison of the two businesses’ hours of operation, and bring the matter back before the council at a later date.
The council also heard a request to authorize a federal transportation grant application from Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission transportation planner Rachel Hatcher.
The grant, provided through the Federal Transit Administration Metropolitan Planning Program, is a matching grant that could cover up to 50 percent of the Liberty Transit System operating deficit during the 2013 fiscal year, which runs July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013.
The Federal Transit Administration would fund up to $892,087, and the city would be required to match the federal dollar amount paid. Any costs above the possible maximum total of $1,784,174 must be covered entirely by the city budget.
Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier asked where the funds beyond half of the operations deficit amount would come from, and Edwards said they would come from the city’s general fund.
Frasier also asked how the grant would be affected by the pending Transportation Investment Act referendum, which stands to fund all Liberty Transit operations with revenue from a 1 percent sales tax if it passes at the polls in July.
Edwards explained that even if the tax passes, it will not be enacted until January 2013, already halfway through the fiscal year that the grant would serve.
Councilman Jason Floyd asked whether the grant application would obligate the city to continue the service.
“My question is, if we decide that the transit system is no longer feasible and we decide to go through the process of shutting it down prior to this, this has not obligated us to run this through that period of time?” Floyd asked.
Hatcher said her understanding is that the city would not be obligated to spend the maximum allotted amount, but that she could not comment on the legality of executing the contract with the intent not to spend the money.
The board unanimously authorized the grant application, pending outside confirmation that the grant would not obligate the city to continue Liberty Transit Operations.
In other news, the council also:
• Reappointed city clerk Sarah Lumpkin to office and elected Charles Frasier to mayor pro tem.
• Approved a transient merchant license request for Circus Pages International to hold a circus at the National Guard Armory on Jan. 27-28.
• Approved a peddler’s license request for United Distributors, which will travel door-to-door to sell water treatment systems.
• Councilman David Anderson reported that 11 businesses applied for new or renewed business licenses.