Last call for bars in Brookhaven is now an hour earlier.
The Brookhaven City Council voted 3-1 at its Oct. 10 meeting to roll back last call from 3 a.m. to 2 a.m., a decision that comes after months of debate. The new hours take effect April 10, 2018.
City staff recommended rolling back the hours earlier this year as part of an overhaul of the alcohol ordinance. The police department has also requested for more than a year that hours be cut back due to increasing reports of violence and crime at the nightclubs in Northeast Plaza on Buford Highway.
The 2 a.m. last call aligns Brookhaven with last calls in Dunwoody and Sandy Springs. Closing hours will also now be 2:30 a.m. rather than 3:30 a.m. The new ordinance applies to all venues that serve alcohol.
Councilmember Linley Jones made the amendment to change the ordinance from 3 a.m. to 2 a.m. and it was seconded by Councilmember John Park. Both said they supported the change because it was in the best interest of the city and its residents.
“It’s our duty to protect the safety and welfare of the community … to protect our citizens and our police force,” Jones said. She said statistics provided by the police department in June showing a sharp increase in DUIs and aggravated assaults on Buford Highway between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. were compelling enough to make the change.
Councilmember Bates Mattison, who cast the no vote, said that by rolling back hours to try to stop police incidents caused by a few businesses the city would in turn harm other businesses.
“We started the city with a belief that we would be pro-business,” he said. “From incorporation we’ve changed [bar] hours from 4 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. and now to 2 a.m. Some of these businesses are not the source of police problems … and they will have to close because of this ordinance change.
“I have compassion for those business owners,” he said, “and for the workers who will have to find new jobs.”
Mattison said it is clear there are crime and public safety problems on Buford Highway, but they are caused by “a couple of problem operators.”
The city currently takes in approximately $900,000 a year from venues serving alcohol through license fees and excise taxes. Cutting back hours could significantly impact that revenue, Mattison added.
Councilmember Joe Gebbia, whose district includes Buford Highway, asked that XS Lounge in Northeast Plaza be exempted from the earlier closing hour.
In 2014, the restaurant and nightclub obtained the 5-year SLUP through the city to be categorized as a late-night establishment. The SLUP allowed XS Lounge to operate as a restaurant until 12:30 a.m. and then becomes a late-night venue afterwards with the ability to sell alcohol until 3 a.m. City code required restaurants to stop selling booze at 12:30 a.m. even though they could stay open until 3:30 a.m.
Police and council members have complained in the past that some venues in the city were getting around the SLUP process by stating they were restaurants but would then keep selling alcohol after 12:30 a.m.
XS Lounge’s SLUP expires next year, Gebbia said, and he asked the council to “honor its contract” with the club and let it remain open later as part of that land use agreement until 2019. He said the club owner invested in his business based on that 5-year SLUP. Gebbia also said that XS Lounge is not one of the clubs with numerous police calls.
“The [SLUP] process has worked well with XS Lounge,” he said.
City Attorney Chris Balch argued a SLUP is not a contract in the “traditional sense of the word” and he advised the better course of action would be to treat all alcohol licensees the same. He also explained that the SLUP does not include hours of operation.
Jones said the police have noted problems with XS Lounge going back to 2015 and said it was not accurate to portray the nightclub as a good community citizen simply because it has a SLUP.
“It has long been a major user of police resources and a place of criminal activity,” she said.
Hakim Hilliard, attorney for XS Lounge, addressed council members during public comment before the vote and disputed the police department’s claim of numerous incidents at the business. He also asked them to exempt his client from the earlier closing time until after the SLUP expires.
After the meeting, he said XS Lounge would now have to consider its options, including possibly taking legal action against the city before the new hours go into effect in April.
“We weren’t asking for a legal conclusion, we were asking for a policy decision to honor the contract,” he said. “And a SLUP is a contract.
“Obviously [the owner] made an investment based on a 5-year plan,” Hilliard said. “We were just asking for the good will of the council. I’m a lawyer but I did not come here to be an adversary.”