Originally created 02/13/01

Judge allows liquor sales at restaurant



An Augusta Commission decision to deny a downtown restaurant licenses to sell liquor, showcase live entertainment and pour alcohol on Sundays was overturned Monday by a Superior Court judge's ruling.

Off Broadway Dine & Dance, located in the 1200 block of Broad Street, is slated to be an upscale dinner club featuring live bands and dancing.

Restaurant owner Judy Tyler did not answer a phone call to her business Monday evening. Her landlord, Julian Osbon, was in a meeting Monday and did not return a page seeking comment.

Ms. Tyler has said she was awaiting a ruling on the alcohol and entertainment permits before opening for business.

Last year, she filed a petition with the court arguing that the commission's decision was "arbitrary and capricious" and in violation of her due process.

Judge Albert M. Pickett's ruling, which was filed with the Clerk of Court at 4:21 p.m. Monday, agreed with Ms. Tyler, saying the code that commissioners cited when they rejected Off Broadway's permits was intentionally broad and was not supported with evidence during the license hearing.

Man-made barriers between Off Broadway and a nearby church, the urban location and the restaurant's intention to cater to adults also contributed to the ruling, Judge Pickett said.

"A mile of rural road is not always the same as (a) mile of downtown street," Judge Pickett wrote.

Last fall, commissioners held several meetings to consider Ms. Tyler's license requests, including one where nearly 300 people - mostly members of the Curtis Baptist Church congregation - showed up in opposition. The church is located across the street and a block up from the restaurant.

Curtis Baptist Pastor Mark Harris did not immediately return a message left at his home Monday evening.

After an initial vote to deny the restaurant all alcohol licenses and a dance hall license, the commission reconsidered and granted the restaurant beer and wine permits.

But the commission withheld approval of the restaurant's liquor, Sunday sales and dance hall licenses, citing three "objective criteria," which city ordinance says can be used at the board's discretion.

Judge Pickett said during Ms. Tyler's initial Superior Court hearing Dec. 20 that it was an abuse of the commission's discretion to deny alcohol and entertainment permits to Off Broadway based on two of the three criteria: that the restaurant would create traffic congestion and that there already were other establishments serving alcohol in the same area.

Monday's ruling deemed the third criteria - which denied the license based on the tendency for minors to congregate in the "vicinity" of the restaurant - a gross abuse of the commission's discretion. Judge Pickett also said Ms. Tyler had a clear legal right to obtain the permits.

City Attorney Jim Wall said commissioners have the option to appeal the judge's decision, and they will likely discuss the ruling in executive session during their Feb. 20 meeting.

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.