#Neighborhood Living
Residents of Tuscaloosa, AL
United States of America

We ask the City of Tuscaloosa to live up to its promise to protect neighborhoods. The undersigned therefore call upon the City to take the three numbered steps below.

Three years ago, Druid City Historic District residents started a petition asking the City to mediate the damage done by a business, The Innisfree, located less than two blocks from this district’s residences. http://www.gopetition.com/petition/33923.html The business was, and continues to be, a nuisance. Today, residents are still regularly treated to sideswiped cars, litter, damaged lawns, and late night disturbances. Patrons on foot regularly enter people’s homes in the middle of the night. They are inebriated past the point of self control, and are a danger to themselves and to others. The City has not taken effective action, resident complaints have not been properly addressed, and things may get worse soon if the City does not correct its current course.

Now, the City of Tuscaloosa is preparing to sell the adjoining property, the FOCUS on Seniors Building (Lot 179, 1920 6th Street, Tuscaloosa, AL 35401), to a bidder, the current owner of the building the Innisfree rents. With the City’s apparent blessing, he is planning to help significantly expand this business. He will lease the Innisfree an adjoining room to create a banquet and party room. But the FOCUS building, purchased with Federal Block Grant Funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), cannot be sold without consulting the affected citizens, including the neighbors. Regulations require citizen input to determine if the new use of the property be deemed appropriate.

Signatures made by May 4th before 5:00pm CST will be particularly effective, as we will be able to include them in official communications to the City within HUD’s time-frame for public comment.

1) We declare the proposed new use of FOCUS building inappropriate; the City and HUD should reject this bid. The bidder has made his intention clear to the City. A significant portion of this space, 3000 square feet or more, will become the Innisfree’s party room. As many as four hundred additional guests will be served drink. The additional patrons will exacerbate an already unacceptable condition. More drunken patrons will disperse less than two blocks from a downtown neighborhood late at night. Parking is today inadequate and an expansion of the Innisfree will make matters worse. It will mean more litter, more home invasions, and disturbances. These kinds of establishments should not be located this close to residential areas.

2) If the City wishes to sell the FOCUS building it ought to first consult the neighborhood, determine a truly appropriate use for the property, and find a bidder willing to work within those parameters.

3) We call upon the city to restore and support the common sense reading and enforcement of the state’s liquor license laws. The Innisfree is able to operate in the way that it does because the City has abandoned a common sense reading, and enforcement, of our liquor license laws. State laws distinguish between a bar (a “lounge” in state code) and a restaurant. The laws governing the Alabama Beverage Control (ABC) Board define a restaurant as a place that is “habitually and principally used for the purpose of preparing and serving meals for the public to consume on the premises.” (Alabama Code 28-3-1) In keeping with a common sense reading of this definition, ABC officers working with the City have, in the past, publically stated that restaurants with liquor licenses were expected to make at least 50% of their receipts in food. If an establishment’s first order of business is selling alcoholic beverages, and not meals, it ought not be permitted to operate under a restaurant’s liquor license. This is a distinction that makes a difference. Unlike bars, restaurants with liquor licenses are permitted to admit customers under the legal drinking age.

Unfortunately, the City has very recently changed its view, and in ways that the undermine the public interest. City officials have created wiggle room in the definition of restaurants. The Innisfree, by its own admission, has 79% of its sales in alcohol. By any reasonable reading of the code, it does not principally serve and prepare meals. It principally serves alcoholic beverages. The City now maintains, however, that because the code cited above does not explicitly stipulate that more than 50% of receipts be for food, that there is no basis for denying this bar in disguise the privilege of calling itself a restaurant. This is an issue that concerns all of Tuscaloosa. Some parts of the City are zoned to permit restaurants, but forbid bars and lounges. If the City effectively erases the distinction between the two concerning the sale of alcoholic beverages, neighborhoods all around the City will face a new difficulty. As the Druid City Neighborhood has, you may encounter an unexpected problem from a “restaurant” that operates like a bar.

The undersigned understand that bars have a place in Tuscaloosa, but we don’t want bars in disguise smuggled into residential areas under cover of a grossly permissive interpretation of the ABC code. The City and the ABC ought to return to the common sense approach.

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The Stop the Expansion of the Innisfree. Save Tuscaloosa Neighborhoods petition to Residents of Tuscaloosa, AL was written by Ted Miller and is in the category Neighborhood Living at GoPetition.