By Alex Ewalt
After a recent rash of noise complaints, Brookhaven City Council is considering making bars close earlier.
Brookhaven’s bars now close at 3:55 a.m., the same closing time imposed in DeKalb County. At the Brookhaven council’s April 15 meeting, members suggested setting closing time at various points between 1 a.m. and 3:55 a.m., with the possibility of different times on different nights.
The council will revisit the matter April 22. City officials also are considering scheduling one or two public meetings on the subject so they can hear the opinions of business owners and residents.
Since incorporating, Brookhaven has allowed business owners with DeKalb County liquor licenses to stay open until the county’s cutoff of 3:55 a.m. Last May, the council held a public meeting attended by over 100 liquor license holders to discuss closing times.
The council focused on a number of bars and nightclubs on a stretch of Buford Highway. Councilman Joe Gebbia said the city needs to consider how an ordinance change would affect businesses outside the problem area.
“We have to recognize the fact that we are an entertainment zone here, but we need to do it responsibly,” Gebbia said. “Last year, I led the effort to hold off making this decision until we had the validation of the businesses.”
Gebbia said his main concern was public safety. “From a life and safety standpoint, I’ve always been very firm on this issue, particularly about DUIs,” he said. “If we find that we are encouraging DUIs to the point of being very detrimental to Brookhaven, we need to take action for life and safety.”
Besides an ordinance change, Gebbia offered other ways for bars and clubs to address safety issues.
“One of the suggestions that has come up in the group was to make sure that they take a higher participation in security, not only inside, but outside the buildings to relieve the pressure from police,” he said. “And, in as many instances as possible, always hire a Brookhaven police officer [as security], because when a Brookhaven police officer works off-duty, he brings his car with him. And the presence of a police car is always a very strong [deterrent].”
Aubrey Villines, attorney for the Pink Pony, spoke at Tuesday’s council meeting, requesting that the club be represented in any discussions to change operating hours. The Pink Pony is involved in a lawsuit with the city, which passed an ordinance banning the sale of alcohol with nude dancing.
The council also addressed the current penalty for serving alcohol after hours, which is liquor license revocation.
“As far as the penalty enforcement [for serving after hours], I would say ‘warning.’ But then if someone wants to continue to be abusive and violate the law, you just need to become firm,” Gebbia said.
A closure time change likely would not go into effect until liquor licenses are renewed on Jan. 1, 2015.