WESTBROOK – City councilors granted the Skybox Bar and Grill the licenses it needs to keep operating after a public hearing Monday night.

Councilors voted 5-0 to grant the Skybox food and liquor licenses, with conditions.

David A. Lourie, the lawyer for Skybox owners Allen and Lynn Moore, said the Moores have agreed to continue working with the police department and to limit their hours of operation Monday through Friday. The council will review the licenses in six months.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Lourie said after the vote. “Hopefully, it will be the beginning of the end of this war that is going on.”

The Skybox, a tavern on Brown Street, came under fire Monday from city officials, who cited problems with public intoxication, assaults and noise. City officials argued that the Skybox should be denied its licenses based on 13 substantive incidents at, or related to, the bar from April 1, 2009, to March 31 of this year.

Police Capt. Tom Roth read a list of incidents ranging from fighting outside the Skybox to arrests of the bar’s patrons for driving drunk. Lourie disputed most of the incidents in a debate that lasted more than an hour.

“This is selective enforcement from the city,” Lourie said. “Other bars in town don’t get the same scrutiny.”

Mayor Colleen Hilton asked police officials how many times officers have been called to other bars in the city during the past year. Roth said other bars receive an average of five or six service calls a year.

The dispute dates to April 6, 2009, 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.

On May 4, the council denied the licenses again on a 4-4 vote.

The Moores sued the city and asked a judge for an injunction to allow the Skybox to stay open.

City officials agreed to let the bar keep running while the issue was being decided in court.

At the start of Monday’s public hearing, City Council President Brendan Rielly and Councilors John O’Hara and Dorothy Aube recused themselves from the vote.

On March 23 a judge ruled that Aube was biased when she voted last year against granting licenses to the Skybox. Aube was one of four councilors who voted against the license renewal on April 6, 2009. Rielly, O’Hara and Councilor Drew Gattine joined the opposition.

Councilors met privately for about an hour before Monday’s public hearing with city attorneys, who briefed them on the court decision and pending litigation.

As of 8:45 p.m., the public had not spoken on the issue. About 10 people turned out to support the Skybox.

One hurdle for the bar 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 have been or will be detrimental in any way to the health, safety and general welfare of the public.”

“Unfortunately, they still have an unconstitutional ordinance,” Lourie said after the meeting. “The case will go on until it’s removed from their books or they are ordered by the court to remove it.”

 

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: mcreamer@pressherald.com