WELLSVILLE - Members of the village Property Committee met on Wednesday morning with Mayor Susan Haugh and the co-owners of the Riverside Roadhouse, Bill Reed and Eric Smith, on their request for an additional liquor license. It was the most recent such meeting where Reed and Smith presented their case to village officials.
As with previous meetings, a decisive answer could not be given, but action is expected at the next council meeting.
There was greater information available courtesy of Dominic Panzera, legal counsel for the Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of Liquor Control, who took part via telephone from Columbus. He confirmed that 75 percent of an establishment's receipts must come from the sale of food in order to be eligible for the D-5L permit that Reed and Smith have applied for. Another condition of the permit is that the establishment be located within a revitalization district, a point that has been debated amongst members of village council and Haugh since April 2012, when Jason Smith and his wife Rebecca first approached council with the request.
While Reed and Smith have assured committee members that the 75-percent quota would not be a problem for their business, reaching a conclusion about the revitalization district has proven far more elusive. Concerns about the possibility of freeing up too many liquor permits that other property owners might use to open what Haugh described as "beer joints" has been a persistent fear in council chambers.
Panzera said the state legislature was thorough in writing the D-5L permit, drafting very specific requirements that must be met, such as the food quota, the distribution of other permits and population, before one is granted. He revealed one significant omission, however.
"What the legislature did not really do is provide an auditing provision," Panzera said. While the Division of Liquor Control is able to review business records kept by a permit holder, there's no way to guarantee those records are accurate, if they're being kept at all, and no legal requirement for them to provide any sort of audit to the division.
"The statute really doesn't have much in the way of 'teeth,' so to speak," Panzera admitted.
This information did nothing to soothe the concerns of committee members. Haugh asked what the village could do if a D-5L permit holder is found to be blatantly violating its provisions, selling lots of pretzels and chips to make up its food quota, for example. Panzera replied that council would need to wait until the permit came up for its annual renewal by the division, which the village could formally oppose with evidence for the division to consider. "We would set up a hearing at which time that evidence could be presented," he said.
As on previous occasions, Dinch and Cataldo said the committee fully supports Reed and Smith getting the permit, and are only trying to ensure that others don't take advantage of any revitalization district that is created. The survey paid for by Reed and Smith envisioned a district from their location at the top of Wells Avenue down to Fifth Street, with acreage that would free up to 12 new liquor permits.
The mayor asked why the village would want to confine its future development to such a small area when further down Main Street is what should be targeted. Haugh has previously stated her desire to have the entire village made into a revitalization district. Cataldo reminded the mayor that Panzera had spoken about the ability to expand the area of a district later on. He suggested that to expedite the process for Reed and Smith, the district should only encompass the Riverside Roadhouse to Nemenz Save-a-Lot.
Haugh replied by asking why, if a survey has already been completed up to Fifth Street, would the provisional district encompass that full area. Cataldo said council still doesn't know enough about the details of a revitalization district to go that far. "We still have questions about this," he said. "This way, it gives us time to learn more about this, and the problem is solved for [Reed and Smith]."
Dinch added that the Riverside Roadhouse is a known quantity whose business mostly is food, easily meeting the quota. Further down toward Fifth Street are bars, which she suggested Wellsville already has enough of.
Smith spoke up, saying he's not optimistic about more restaurants developing on Main Street due to present parking conditions, but agreed with Cataldo about expediting the process so they are no longer in limbo. "To get us moving, we'd like to see some sort of improvement somewhere."
Dinch then asked about the village needing to pay for another expensive survey once the village decides, later on, to expand the district past Save-a-Lot when they have a current survey on the books. "Why pay for a survey twice?" Cataldo replied he'd rather take the chance of spending the extra money later rather than risk letting an undesirable establishment open because he didn't understand the law sufficiently.
In the end, committee members decided to order in legislation for council to establish the area of a revitalization district at its next meeting on Feb. 4. That legislation would be voted on by council at the following meeting on Feb. 18, after which a series of public hearings would follow if approved by council.