The owners of the Skybox Bar and Grill in Westbrook will get another chance tonight to get the licenses they were denied twice last year.
City councilors will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. at Westbrook High School to decide the fate of the Skybox, a controversial bar on the corner of Brown and North streets.
Allen Moore, co-owner of the Skybox, said he doesn’t know what to expect at the meeting. Moore says he deserves the right to operate his business like other business owners in the city.
“My biggest fear is that they might keep chirping the same propaganda, saying the Skybox is trouble,” Moore said. “They have tried everything they possibly could to shut us down.”
The dispute dates to April 6 of last year, when then-Mayor Bruce Chuluda and the City Council voted against renewing the Skybox’s food sales license, saying the business would be a nuisance in the mostly residential Frenchtown neighborhood.
Without a food license, the bar couldn’t have a liquor license, so the vote meant the Skybox would have to close when its food license expired at the end of the month.
Moore and his wife, Lynn, sued the city and asked the judge for an injunction to allow the Skybox to remain open. City officials agreed to let the bar stay open while the issue was being decided in court.
A judge ruled March 23 that City Councilor Dorothy Aube was biased when she voted last year against granting licenses to the Skybox.
Justice Robert Crowley’s decision, issued in Cumberland County Superior Court, found that Aube’s statements at the hearings on the licenses in April and May 2009 showed she was biased and should not have voted.
If city councilors deny the Skybox its licenses, the Moores will have grounds to appeal the decision based on the recent court ruling, said David A. Lourie, the lawyer for the Skybox.
City councilors will meet privately before tonight’s public hearing with City Solicitor Bill Dale, who is expected to update the council on the court decision and pending litigation. Dale didn’t return calls seeking comment.
Another hurdle for the Skybox is a decision by the council in February to update the language in the city’s license ordinances.
The new language says a license can be denied or revoked if “the business operations have or will likely be a nuisance to owners of adjoining property or to the public and has been or will be detrimental in any way to the health, safety and general welfare of the public.”
Lourie has challenged the validity of the ordinance in court. He said a ruling is expected from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
“It is blatantly unconstitutional,” he said. “It gives the municipal officers unbridled discretion to grant or deny a license as they did last year. There can be no effective judicial review of their decisions under these standards.”
City Administrator Jerre Bryant said the standards are clear. He said that if police respond to a fight outside a bar, it justifies a decision to not issue or revoke the bar’s license.
“If a bar’s activity is leading to a nuisance in the neighborhood, it’s a legitimate issue,” Bryant said.
The Moores have appeared before the council more than six times since they opened the Skybox.
Police Chief Bill Baker is expected to report on incidents inside and outside the bar. Moore said he has a no-tolerance policy for fighting at the bar. He said about a dozen people have been served with no-trespass papers by the police department.
“Our place is clean,” Moore said. “We run a tight ship down here.”
Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: