Originally created 02/22/01

Eatery wins liquor license fight



The wait is over for downtown business owner Judy Tyler.

More than four months after Augusta commissioners denied Ms. Tyler's initial request to obtain several alcohol and entertainment licenses for her Broad Street restaurant, officials granted Off Broadway Dine & Dance permits to sell beer, wine and liquor and to showcase live bands and pour alcohol on Sundays.

The city attorney's office will notify the Department of License and Inspection to issue the permits to Ms. Tyler immediately.

"I finally have what I deserved," Ms. Tyler said after she learned of the commission's ruling through local media. "I have a lot of people behind me, but I know the commission hasn't been."

There were no crowds at Wednesday's full commission meeting, and the vote to approve the permits came with much less fanfare than several previous votes to deny, when hundreds of opponents and supporters crammed into a city courtroom to hear licensing deliberations.

Last year, commissioners cited several reasons for denying the restaurant's licenses, all of which addressed the safety concerns of Curtis Baptist Church and school, which is located across the street and one block away from the restaurant.

But Judge Albert M. Pickett ruled Feb. 1 that the commission's decision to reject Ms. Tyler's license requests based on those criteria was "arbitrary and capricious."

Wednesday's vote to grant the licenses came after a failed motion to appeal the judge's decision. An appeal would have tied up Off Broadway's licenses for many more months.

"We made a decision to deny the license (initially), and I stuck with that decision," said Commissioner Marion Williams, who was one of only two members to vote against issuing the license. "As a commissioner, I stood for what I believe is right."

Commissioner Ulmer Bridges, the other opposing vote, has voiced concerns that failing to appeal the judge's decision would set a citywide precedent that would allow businesses that sell alcohol to locate too close to churches and schools.

Some commissioners say they agree that the judge's decision might set a precedent in Superior Court, but that the ruling isn't likely to set a standard for the way officials vote on such sensitive issues.

"I take each alcohol case as a separate case that has to be decided on as the facts are presented," said Commissioner Jerry Brigham, who initially opposed all the licenses but later - along with Commissioner Andy Cheek - changed his vote to OK beer and wine permits for Off Broadway.

Commissioner Willie Mays, who in three previous votes on the licensing issue opposed granting any alcohol or entertainment permits, said the court's decision was a signal to commissioners to move forward with other matters.

"I think it gives us the leeway to know upfront what to tell people when there are mass objectors," Mr. Mays said.

In other business, commissioners voted 7-2 to approve the concept of locating a south Augusta library branch at Diamond Lakes Regional Park. Commissioners Lee Beard and Richard Colclough opposed, saying other sites should be further considered.

The commission also unanimously approved a 5 percent reduction in its own accounts, an expected savings of $16,270 this year.

Reach Heidi Coryell at (706) 823-3215.