By Heather Ramsay –“No comment” is the response Masset council will submit to the Liquor Licensing branch regarding a local businessman’s application for a liquor primary licence.
The decision made at the Monday (September 12) council meeting comes after a packed public hearing in council chambers two weeks ago and 39 written responses, 29 of which were in support of the application.
“I’m disappointed and dismayed that council would basically cower out on making the decision,” said Rollie Wheeler, who owns Midlife Enterprises, the company operating Players Lounge above the Seabreeze Restaurant on Main Street in Masset.
Mr. Wheeler was seated in the 65-seat upstairs portion of his restaurant following the council meeting, in the area he’d like to make adult-only.
Right now, the restaurant and lounge, open until 1am, operate under a food primary licence, meaning minors are allowed on the premises at any time. They can sit at tables accompanied by adults who are drinking alcohol in the lounge area and can sit unaccompanied in the adjacent upstairs restaurant seating.
He doesn’t feel his establishment is a suitable place for minors, especially late at night, but he says he has no legal recourse to ask them to leave.
“An 11-year-old kid could walk in here without supervision and we can’t stop them,” he said after the decision was made.
Mr. Wheeler, who is also a councillor, left the building while the final decision on his licence application was being made. John Chutter, his business partner and Steve Marshall, the owner of Mile Zero Pub and the cold beer and wine store, remained in the room.
At the meeting, Councillor Lorrie Joron said she was torn over the decision because she thinks youth need a place to witness adults consuming alcohol in a responsible manner.
Ed Woode asked if she was suggesting a European model where young people are allowed in bars and Ms. Joron said yes, but noted this model is not ideal either.
Mr. Marshall suggested that with this model teens may not think going to a bar is such a wild thing, when they become of age.
He also noted Mr. Wheeler is allowed to offer entertainment, such as dine-and-dance and live music, with special permission from the Liquor Licensing Branch.
Councillors asked questions of both members of the public before they passed a motion to state no comment to the Liquor Licensing branch. They agreed to include the minutes and transcripts of all meetings on the issue, along with the written responses to the public hearing.
After hearing about the results of the meeting, Mr. Wheeler called the whole process flawed.
“Not only did council not listen to the vast majority of people who support our application, they also conducted another unscheduled question and answer period,” says. Mr. Wheeler.
Letting Mr. Marshall come to the meeting and speak before a decision is made is contrary to municipal council protocol. Unless a member of the public attends as a delegate, when they are allowed to make a presentation at the beginning of a meeting, their comments are only allowed at the very end.
“Why would they allow one bar owner’s objection to any form of competition and free enterprise have such a negative impact against the public’s wishes,” said Mr. Wheeler.
The licence is now in the hands of the Liquor Licensing Branch, which makes the final decision on Mr. Wheeler’s application. It will take into account any comments from local governments that come in the form of a resolution.
There are about 400 people per bar in Masset without the new licence, while the provincial average is about 1,600 per bar.
Those at the council meeting and Mr. Wheeler, seem to agree the community has drug and alcohol problems.
Mr. Wheeler thinks denying him a liquor primary licence will aggravate the problem.
“It’s our duty to put in safeguards to save kids from negative influences. We’re supposed to take the leadership role. . .It’s not someone else’s problem, it’s our problem and tonight they didn’t deal with it.”
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