Brookhaven City Council members are considering putting a moratorium on late-night venues on Buford Highway, continuing a debate among city officials that has gone on for several years.
Mayor John Ernst directed City Attorney Chris Balch during the council’s April 26 work session to prepare information to present at its May 10 meeting on how the council could possibly halt new late-night establishments opening in the city, specifically along Buford Highway.
“My concern is we don’t become what happened to Buckhead,” said Councilmember Joe Gebbia. “Buford Highway has always been an ‘entertainment area,’ but I think it is our responsibility to manage this area responsibly.”
Interim City Manager and Police Chief Gary Yandura told the council that police officers respond to an overwhelming number of calls between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.
He said from January to April 22, police have responded to more than 2000 incidents. Of the 706 arrests made, 132 were made between 2 a.m. to 6 a.m.; of 832 accidents, 39 occurred between 2 a.m. to 6 a.m.; and of 65 DUIs arrests so far this year, 25 were made between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.
“Our reputation is we are getting to be known as a late night [city] and that is causing problems,” Yandura said.
Currently, last call for local late-night venues is 2:55 a.m. with closing set at 3:30 a.m. Restaurants are also able to stay open until 3:30 a.m.
Closing bars and nightclubs early has been part of an ongoing discussion in Brookhaven since at least 2013 and has been met with resistance from local businesses.
In 2014, the council did approve closing bars and nightclubs an hour earlier.
The council again discussed shutting down clubs and bars an hour earlier in December.
Yandura also showed a dramatic dashcam video from December 2015 of an arrest of a drunk driver on Buford Highway being pursued by several Brookhaven Police officers. The driver was spotted driving on a sidewalk and when an officer tried to pull him over, he sped past several vehicles trying to evade police.
“I know we’re good at catching these guys, but it would be good to know where the DUI drivers are coming from,” Gebbia said after Yandura said he did not know if the driver was leaving a Brookhaven club or possibly driving from Chamblee.
Yandura said the police department also fields many noise complaints that come from Buford Highway. But Councilmember Bates Mattison said he believes the number of new late-night establishments in the area is the main concern.
“The issue is the proliferation of late-night establishments on Buford Highway. We do not want it to become a late-night place,” he said.
Another problem is some restaurants are operating as late-night establishments, violating their licensing agreement, said Ben Song, director of Community Development. Restaurants are supposed to stop serving alcohol at 12:30 a.m. even though they are legally allowed to stay open until 3:30 a.m. However, several are serving booze well past 12:30 a.m., he said.
Gebbia suggested that if venues are cited a certain number of times for violating city ordinances that an off-duty Brookhaven Police officer be required to work security detail at the club. He also suggested that landlords be required to put in security cameras to record happenings in parking lots.
Balch said the council could implement a moratorium on late-night venues either by stopping the issuance of licenses for late-night establishments or by a placing a moratorium on Special Land Use Permits that late-night venues are required to obtain.
“I think for security purposes and continued proliferation, I want to … initiate a moratorium,” Gebbia said.
Councilmember Linley Jones said she supported a moratorium based on danger posed to police officers and citizens.
Councilmember John Park said he worried a moratorium may hurt small venues.
“What about small the small restaurant owner who happens to stay open late … in a relatively quiet neighborhood – this could be an imposition on them,” he said.
No one representing the late-night clubs were present at the work session. The issue will be discussed again in two weeks at the May 10 council meeting.