NEWARK – Union Township officials and residents presented their case challenging renewal of the Mill Dam Corner Grille’s liquor license during a March 4 hearing at the Licking County Administration Building in Newark.
Time ran out before the grille’s owners – Kevin Gatton, Cindy Disbennett and Dan Tetreault – and their attorney could present their side. The hearing will be continued on a date to be announced, when the grill’s owners and lawyer plan to present several hours of evidence and witness testimony on the establishment’s behalf.
Licking County Assistant Prosecutor Austin Lecklider told Ohio Division of Liquor Control Hearing Officer James Bally that the grille presents “substantial interference” with the good order of Union Township because neighboring residents have complained about noise, litter, and parking. Lecklider said live music plays beyond an 11 p.m. noise limit, and patrons parking illegally on Mill Dam Road pose danger to people traveling on Mill Dam and to those crossing the road to enter or exit the grille.
“The facts are dramatically different” from what Lecklider presented, said Westerville attorney Marc Myers, representing the grille. Myers said the grille has been at the corner of Mill Dam Road and US 40 for 40 years. He said the real issue is a zoning dispute between the grille and Union Township Trustees regarding a fence trustees believe is too small. “This whole case is an outgrowth of a zoning issue,” said Myers. He said patrons have parked on either side of Mill Dam for 30 years. “This is not a case where you have an out of control bar owner,” said Myers, adding that the grille’s owners don’t deserve to lose their business.
Lecklider called for witness testimony.
Former Union Township Trustee Jack Justice, who was a trustee for 18 years, said the grille didn’t pose any problems until the new owners took over. “It’s primarily noise complaints,” he said. Justice said one night he could hear music from the Hebron Kroger store, roughly a quarter mile away. “If I lived next to Kroger, I probably would’ve had a complaint,” he said. “There is a parking problem.” Justice said complaints began when the grille began sponsoring outdoor summer activities.
Justice told Myers he wasn’t sure when the new owners took over and he wouldn’t identify the complainants. Justice said he doesn’t live near the grille, but he does believe last summer’s outdoor activities present potential dangers, particularly to motorists approaching the busy Mill Dam Road and US 40 intersection. “It, in my opinion, is a hazard,” said Justice. However, Myers said there’s no empirical evidence of hazards.
Trustee President John Slater said there were no complaints he was aware of about the grille until the current ownership took over, however, Justice and Township Administrator and Police Captain Paula Greene took complaints, not Slater personally. “Sometimes (the grille) is packed,” he said. Slater said the township passed a “no parking” resolution for the east side of Mill Dam Road, but “No Parking” signs were removed twice near the grille and parking continues on that side of the road.
Myers said the land on the east side of Mill Dam across from the grill is privately owned. “Cars have been there for a long time,” he said, adding that there’s no evidence the grille owners removed the signs. Myers said there have been no accidents as a result of the parking and asked Slater to confirm that he was quoted in The Beacon as saying it’s never been his intention to put the grille out of business. Slater confirmed his quote, but added that if the township did nothing to address the complaints, then, “We aren’t doing what we’re asked to do.”
Greene said complaints began in 2009 when the grille began hiring bands to play outdoors during warm months. She said she receives roughly two complaints per month and bar patrons have walked in front of her vehicle on Mill Dam Road. Some cars aren’t parked completely off the road. “There’s no level of cooperation with the new owners,” said Greene. “The problems are still there.” She said bands are playing past 11 p.m. and the township board of zoning appeals required the grille to build a higher fence around its outdoor beer garden area.
Myers said the grille’s fence is in compliance with liquor control regulations and reiterated that were no accidents as a result of the beer garden.
Greene said she’s issued no citations to people parked on Mill Dam since the resolution passed. “The signs were down within hours of being put up,” she said.
Resident Kelly Albright said she doesn’t live in Union Township but she passes the grille often. “It gets really busy,” she said, adding that she’s had to avoid pedestrians and swinging car doors on Mill Dam Road. “You have to be on guard,” said Albright.
Buckeye Lake Police Chief Ron Small said he’s seen parking on both sides of Mill Dam Road and he said trucks had turfed the field east of the grille, he believed during a poker run. Myers said there was no way to be certain the people turfing the field were associated with the grille in any manner.
Lecklider read a statement from resident Roger Brown, who said he’s found litter on his property and the new owners refused to clear it. Brown added that he saw the owners of the trucks that turfed the property go into the grille. Myers said a read statement is simply “hearsay,” adding it wasn’t fair that he couldn’t cross-examine Brown, who wasn’t present.
“There’s some problems,” said resident Neal Keller. He said patrons’ parked vehicles touch the pavement on both sides of Mill Dam. He said he’s nearly hit people on Mill Dam.
“The previous owners were great,” said resident Neva Ludwig. Since then, she said parked cars have funneled Mill Dam down to one lane and she’s had to dodge pedestrians.
However, Myers produced a letter by Ludwig that said she had no complaints against the current owners. Ludwig said she agreed to write the letter under the stipulation that parking complaints and others would be addressed.
“It started out okay, but then they built a stage,” said resident Chuck Boyer. “I have to turn my TV all the way up.” He said he’s complained about loud music many times. “They just ignore me.” Boyer said litter’s a problem. “(Someone) even stuffed beer bottles in my mailbox,” he said, adding there have been fights in front of his house and trespassing on his property. Boyer said the grille kept him from selling his house. “We didn’t even get one offer on it,” he said.
The township’s testimony concluded near 5 p.m., when the administration building closes. Myers said he and his clients plan to present two to three hours of testimony. Bally said the hearing would be continued until a later date.