City Council took a number of unprecedented steps Feb. 20 to ensure a local business owner received due process in her alcohol license hearing.The sticky case involves I Love New York Pizza, a restaurant at the Birmingham Crossroads. Owner Nereyda Blandon has never owned a business before, she said, and so she's had some missteps.Namely that the establishment has been caught twice allegedly "brown bagging" alcohol -- meaning customers bring their own wine, then a server pours it for a fee -- by Milton police, according to Interim City Manger Chris Lagerbloom. That's a big no-no in Milton and could cost the business its pouring permit, if it had one yet.
"It wasn't my intention to break the rules," said Blandon, who arrived 30 minutes late for her public hearing because of troubles at work.Other than those charges, which have not been proven in a court of law, all other qualifications for the alcohol permit have been met. Further compounding the issue, the case against Blandon wasn't scheduled for a first hearing in Milton Court until March 24. Her temporary permit runs out March 1.Under the strict impartiality of the alcohol ordinance, council would have to approve the license, said Acting City Attorney Ken Jarrard. If not, Blandon could sue for lost revenue if the business is found innocent and the city allowed her permit to expire for 23 days without a proven reason.Jarrard's advice was to approve the license but add language not condoning the allegations. If the court found Blandon violated the law, her permit would come before council again, at which time they could take it away."The license is a trust," he said. "If they violate that trust, you can pull the license."That option did not sit well with most of council, who couldn't see rewarding Blandon's mistake."I'm hesitant to approve a business that could have violated our laws," said Councilwoman Julie Zahner Bailey.
After much back and forth between council, Jarrard and Blandon, it was decided her case could be heard at the earliest court date available, Feb. 25, pending approval of the city's judge. In addition, her temporary license was extended to March 4, which is still well within the 60-day cutoff for permits.Depending on the judge's ruling, council can either approve or deny her license March 4, its first meeting of the month.
Blandon, who seemed at once relieved and slightly confused by the proceedings, appeared happy with the results."I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get this," she said.Throughout the hearing Mayor Joe Lockwood was hesitant to strip the eatery of the important license, saying certain businesses at the Birmingham Crossroads have been struggling."I feel this is fair to the applicant," he said. "It allows her to go through due process."In other business:• Council approved a $7,500 expenditure to participate in the national LUCA census program. The city will use its own data, not Fulton County's, to collect population data, which cut down on the original $14,000 cost significantly. The cost should pay for itself in increased federal funding, said GIS coordinator Dawn Abercrombie.