All sides weigh in on bar license

The co-owners of 202 Hometown Tacos -- Dave Caliguiri, left, and Marc Seiavitch -- present their business plan during a public hearing held Tuesday to receive comments on whether Bellevue should permit the business to apply for a liquor license in excess of the borough’s quota of two.

Residents both for and against Bellevue hosting another business serving alcoholic beverages spoke during a public hearing on Tuesday held to provide input on the borough council's upcoming decision on whether to allow a liquor license in excess of the borough's quota. Much of Bellevue Council’s concern, however, was how and why the borough had failed to have a procedure in place for the application request.

The new business 202 Hometown Tacos is currently under construction at 407-409 Lincoln Avenue. Its owners have requested permission from council to apply for a liquor license. Council's permission, in the form of a resolution, is required because this would be the third “R” license in the borough, which the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (LCB) said could be home to only two licenses, based on population, after the ballot referendum four years ago broke the borough's historic dry status. The first license was quickly snapped up by the 565 Corporation, which operates both Grille 565 and 565 Live. The second license was secured for the recently opened restaurant Revival. Bellevue also is home to a yet-to-be-opened brewery, which does not fall into the LCB's “R” category.

Proponents of another bar moving into Bellevue cited a need for night life that would attract new residents to the borough and keep others from leaving, the renovation of a blighted property that has made the neighborhood safer, and the continued growth of the business district.

“These things are keeping people in Bellevue,” said John King, one of the owners of Revival, which sits very near 202 Hometown Tacos at the Lincoln and Fremont intersection.

Another nearby business owner said that the area has become safer and cleaner since work on the property began.

Those opposed to allowing a third “R” license noted its proximity to three churches, a senior center and an elementary school, but most concerns revolved around the perception of the business as more bar than restaurant.

Unlike the borough's other two businesses that serve alcohol, the taco restaurant is clearly divided into “restaurant” and “bar” sections. According to owners Marc Seiavitch and David Caliguiri, plans call for the restaurant and bar to open at 11 a.m. A full menu will be available until 9 p.m., they said. Once the kitchen closes, the bar will remain open until 11 or 11:30 p.m. on weeknights and 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. They said that they are considering offered a more limited menu during the hours after the kitchen closes at 9 p.m.

“Now we're talking about a bar,” said council member Linda Woshner. Council member Val Pennington agreed, saying that the business sounded more like a bar that serves food, which could be problematic in an area so close to residential neighborhoods.

Resident Ann Taylor told council that when the referendum was being debated, residents were assured the licenses would go to “destination restaurants,” not businesses that primarily operate as bars.

Resident Ryan Harvey said that he was worried about the development of Bellevue as a “bar community.”

“I just worry about the culture that it builds with multiple bars in town,” he told council. “It doesn't have to go bad, but it could.”

Council's discussion of the matter primarily centered around the borough's failure to have a procedure in place for consideration of future liquor license applications.

Council member Jodi Hause said that the application had been presented to council in January as “a done deal.” With no procedure in place, she said, the borough has incurred costs for advertising and legal fees that other municipalities pass on to the applicants. Woshner agreed that the information provided to council as a whole was limited and not received until mid-January, and noted that the borough did not even know that a public hearing was required.

“They showcased to us a really big flaw,” said council member Anya Pikul.

Hause said that council spent more time debating whether to have a junior council member than it did exceeding the borough's quota for liquor licenses and what that should entail.

Hause said that the borough should develop a procedure that involves implementing a Conditional Licensing Agreement (CLA), which is an agreement signed by the applicant that imposes conditions on things such as noise abatement, security, training, etc. Once in place, the CLA regulations become enforceable by the LCB.

Council member Tom Hrynda suggested sending the matter to committee for development of a procedure and a CLA. Solicitor Matt Racunas, however, said that the owners already had applied to the LCB for a license, and been told that if a resolution from the borough was not submitted by Feb. 27, the application would be rejected.

“I don't think we should punish these two kids for us not having a procedure,” said council member Grant Saylor.

Hause, however, said it had nothing to do with punishment, and everything to do with protecting the borough and its residents. She said that she found it strange that the owners would invest so much into the building and business with no guarantee of a liquor license.

“Did somebody tell them it would be approved?” she asked.

Pennington likened the situation to one in which “you throw peppers and onions in the skillet to make an omelet without checking the refrigerator to see if you have eggs.”

Woshner agreed that there was no punishment, because “whatever they've put in, they've put in knowing” their application could be denied.

Solicitor Racunas said that he would work with the owners and council in an attempt to develop a CLA before council is scheduled to vote on the resolution at its Feb. 26 regular meeting.