By Steve Burns
Matters of noise, public safety and, of course, money were on the minds of Brookhaven residents, businesspeople and public officials Monday, May 12, at a public forum about the city’s bar closing hours. And the city’s elected leaders appear ready to act soon on at least one of these concerns.
The forum at Oglethorpe University was held to discuss the city’s stop-serving hours for bars, now set at 3:55 a.m. Monday-Friday and 2:55 a.m. Saturday-Sunday. There has been discussion of making the hours earlier, for various reasons. Several businesspeople voiced concerns about their livelihoods, and one resident told how noise from a club in the early morning hours affected her family’s sleep habits.
The commenters’ words had an effect on the four officials at the forum, three from the council as well as the police chief.
“We’ve been knocking around this issue (bar closing hours) for about a year,” Mayor J. Max Davis said at the outset. And after the 90-minute hearing had wound down, he noted, “We will look at our sound ordinance first – we’ll address that immediately.”
Indeed, the agenda for a special called work session Tuesday, May 13, includes discussion of a noise ordinance.
Resident Jamila Montaque got the attention of the elected officials and the audience with her description of how sound from the nearby Atlanta Peach Ballroom disturbs her infant daughter and husband.
“Incredibly loud” was how Montaque described the noise from the ballroom. “My husband works in the emergency room, and he is already messed up [when he arrives home]. I have an infant daughter, and it keeps her up.”
Added resident Brenda Matthews: “I’m concerned about the noise level and drunks knocking down power poles.”
Voicing a business-friendly solution was Todd Lantier, chairman of the Brookhaven Chamber of Commerce. He proposes that businesses form a restaurant association to educate people about drinking and driving and other public safety issues.
“We will not tolerate drinking and driving, and we will not tolerate [criminals] preying on our patrons,” he told the city officials, drawing applause from the audience in Lupton Hall.
Part of the fallout from the situation is that crime increases along Buford Highway in the early morning hours, to the point where police are stretched too thin.
“We do not have enough police to respond in a three-minute limit when they are taking people off to jail,” explained Councilman Bates Mathison.
To some in attendance Monday, the current bar hours are strictly about livelihood.
Noted Justin Pate of the Rush Lounge, “The last few years have been tough. If you roll back the hours, you could put my establishment out of business.”
The mayor also stressed that the formal closing hours, which actually are later than stop-serving hours, also create another issue. Some bar patrons are heading home at the same time some residents are heading for work in the morning.
“I want to avoid some issues,” he said.
An employee of the Pink Pony on Buford Highway told city officials that the club “could live with a 3:30 a.m. last call. It would keep business in Brookhaven, where it should be.”
Another public forum on bar-closing hours is planned for May 28, according to Daniel Hall, deputy city clerk.
Dennis Williams, vice president of the Pink Pony, which has been in Brookhaven for 24 years, noted the crucial nature of closing hours to his employees.
“Where it hits home is the people who raise families and count on that income,” he noted. “The majority of their income is made in the late hours.”