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Tavern fights to keep permit

NEWARK – The owners of the Mill Dam Corner Grille at Mill Dam Road and US 40 should know within a few weeks if they’ll remain in business.

The grille’s owners – Kevin Gatton, Cindy Disbennett and Dan Tetreault – and their attorney Marc Myers presented their witnesses and testimony Monday afternoon at the Licking County Administration Building in defense of their liquor permit. Union Township Trustees are challenging the permit’s renewal on the grounds that business presents “substantial interference” with the good order of Union Township because neighboring residents complained about noise, litter, and parking. They claim that live music plays beyond an 11 p.m. noise limit, and patrons parking illegally on Mill Dam Road on the opposite side from the grille pose danger to people traveling on Mill Dam and to those crossing the road to enter or exit the grille.

March 4, trustees, Union Township Administrator and Police Captain Paula Greene, and Assistant Licking County Prosecutor Austin Lecklider presented their witnesses and testimony against the liquor permit’s renewal. But, time ran out and the hearing was continued to Monday, when the grille’s owners presented their defense.

However, before the grille’s owners called their witnesses, Union Township asked resident Roger Brown, who submitted a written statement but was not present for the March 4 hearing, to take the stand. He said he’s lived next door to the grille for 30 years and knew it was a tavern when he moved to his current home.

Brown said he had no problems with the tavern under its former management. “In fact, they spoiled us a little bit,” he said, adding that the former owners would clean up any trash from the area and they kept noise levels under control. “Now, there’s more noise,” said Brown.

Brown said that during one particularly rowdy event at the grille, a patron whose car was parked near his property publicly defecated near the car, and in eyesight of his granddaughter’s ninth birthday party, which was going on at the same time. “That was the last straw,” he said. Brown said he doesn’t hear noise from the tavern itself, but he does hear bands playing in the tavern’s outdoor patio and finds litter on his property.

Myers began by calling Gatton to testify. Gatton said he has signs at the grille asking people not to park on the east side of Mill Dam Road. “It’s not our property,” he said. Previously, Union Township declared the east side of Mill Dam Road as a no parking zone, but “no parking” signs were removed twice. Union Township Police never issued a parking citation to anyone parked on the east side of Mill Dam Road. Gatton said there have been no recent traffic accidents involving tavern patrons and an outdoor stage was only used once; the grille stopped using it for bands following a noise complaint. He said trucks on US 40 are louder than the bands that play there now.

“I’ve been in this business for 31 years,” said Disbennett. She said there was an event in 2008 that was bigger than she anticipated it would be and led to Brown’s incident, but she said a band played past 11 p.m. only once, and that was one song. Disbennett said someone had a noise complaint had to go outside to hear the band playing. “It couldn’t have been that loud,” she said.

Myers called resident Ann Elswick to testify. She lives on US 40 directly across from the grille and is its closest resident. She said she’s never had any problems with the grille. “I had to turn up the TV once,” said Elswick. She said she very rarely frequents the grille.

Resident Bruce Owens has lived 200 yards west of the grille for 15 years. He said he believes the grille’s business is stronger now than it has been and the property is improved. When Myers asked Owens if the grille has adversely affected him, he replied, “None, whatsoever. It’s busier than 15 years ago.” Owens said patrons have always parked on the east side of Mill Dam Road.

“There’s no music after 11,” said grille employee Kelly Garette. She said she’s received two noise complaints in total and she picks up litter from around the establishment. Garette added that she doesn’t know who took down the no parking signs.

Former Hebron Police Chief and retired Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper Eric Clark said he’d never seen a traffic problem associated with the grille nor received any calls about people trespassing on the field east of the grille, even after the field’s owner gave him authority to patrol it. Clark also denied Greene’s claim that he told her he knew who removed the no parking signs.

Resident Mark Lothes said he drives Mill Dam Road every day and has no problems navigating it, even at the grille’s peak times. “I don’t hear it at home,” he said, adding that he has no complaints. “There’s always litter on (Mill Dam Road), but it’s not coming from that place,” said Lothes, who regularly frequents the grille.

In closing, Lecklider reiterated the township’s position that the Mill Dam Corner Grille interferes with the community’s peace, and the grille is responsible for litter, excessive noise, illegal parking, and traffic congestion. “The trustees object to renewal,” he said.

Myers said trustees must provide proof of adverse effects to deny a liquor permit renewal, and he believes they fell short of doing so. He said parking was only recently banned on the east side of Mill Dam Road and no citations were issued. “Sometimes old habits die hard,” said Myers. He said there is no evidence of traffic accidents or liquor violations associated with the grille. Myers said the person who lives closest to the grille, as well as other neighbors, have no complaints, and the grille only received two noise complaint calls for bands. “This is not a case where a business has had an adverse effect,” he said.

Ohio Division of Liquor Control Hearing Officer James Bally, who presided over both hearings, said Division of Liquor Control Superintendent Bruce Stevenson would decide whether to renew the grille’s liquor permit within the next few weeks.

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