Fayetteville City Council members will have to decide whether a new bar can open near Dickson Street in the coming weeks.
The decision is required as part of a recent addition to state law that gives local governments the power to approve or reject permits for new private clubs. If approved, the applicant can request a liquor license and move on.
The council in September unanimously approved its first applicant when the owners of Vault were given the green light to open a private club in the EJ Ball Building at 112 W. Center Street.
The latest applicant, however, will have to wait at least another two weeks for an answer.
Sami Ammar Haddaji applied to open a new bar called VIP Club at 326 N. West Ave. in the space formerly home to Dickson Street Social Club, but Fayetteville Police Chief Greg Tabor said he has a few concerns about the permit.
Tabor told the council on Tuesday that the area at West Avenue and Watson Street has been the center of many problems that begin at around 2 a.m. when the adjacent clubs close for the night.
“I want to be very clear that my concern is not with the applicant, it’s with the location,” Tabor told the council. “The applicant has had an alcohol permit before with no known violations.”
Tabor mentioned several incidents that have occurred this year in the area, including a shooting, a man who was hit in the head with a rock, and multiple aggravated assaults.
“We’ve worked with about every entity we can,” Tabor said, noting that his department has teamed up with university police and county deputies to help answer calls when the bars let out, firefighters to help block and clear emergency exits, and property owners to add more lights. Tabor said he’s also brought in lighting trailers and surveillance trucks to try and curb the crime.
Tabor said the situation improved a bit after Dickson Street Social Club went out of business a few months ago, but said it’s not clear if any particular establishment is directly at fault.
“My concern is if we put that fourth club back in close proximity, we’re gonna have the same issues,” he said. “I think if you took these four bars and separated them…I don’t think you’d have that problem because you wouldn’t have as many people congregating in that area.”
City Attorney Kit Williams said the council is in “uncharted territory” when it comes to approving or denying a private club permit.
“There’s no guidance in the law…it doesn’t say what you’re supposed to look at,” he said.
Williams advised the council to at least provide a good reason if they were to deny the permit so as not to come across as arbitrary or capricious.
“I think we’ve heard some good reasons, but on the other hand it’s certainly not the policy in Fayetteville to keep buildings vacant,” Williams said. “We need to try and work something out.”
Kenneth Mourton, an attorney speaking on behalf of Haddaji, said his client plans to reduce the previous club’s occupancy by half in an effort to help alleviate the crowds at 2 a.m. He said they’ll do whatever else they can as well.
“My client is willing to work, willing to meet, and willing to get to a point that makes everybody comfortable,” said Mourton. “Certainly it’s a problem, but it’s a problem bigger than my client.”
The council agreed to leave the request on the first reading to allow more time to think through the issue.