By Kevin Hogencamp
With a lot more punch thanks to a switcheroo in perspective from Mayor Willie Adams and City Attorney Nathan Davis, the Albany City Commission exercised its privilege Tuesday to deny Alex Rowe’s quest to open a liquor store and check-cashing operation.
Four commissioners and Adams say their decision was made because opening a liquor store at the site of a former Chinese restaurant at 301 E. Oglethorpe Blvd. might be a detriment to the already violent crime-plagued neighborhood, which includes Albany State University, a church, a nightspot, a restaurant, and a strip shopping center.
Whether the privilege stands up in court may soon be tested, as Rowe – represented by former Dougherty Assistant District Attorney Chris Cohilas — is weighing his legal options.
After advising the City Commission that it should approve the license last month on legal grounds, Davis argued Tuesday that the commission’s split decision to deny the license – which led to Tuesday’s denial hearing — likely would fare well in court. Adams said Davis’ change of heart convinced him to switch his vote Tuesday. He joined Jon Howard, Dorothy Hubbard, Roger Marietta and Tommie Postell in denying Rowe a license. Christopher Pike and Bob Langstaff voted to award Rowe a license.
Last month, Davis noted that the police and code enforcement department determined that Rowe met the city’s licensing criteria, and that the commission had no legal authority to reject Rowe’s application. But during Tuesday’s hearing, Davis crafted an eloquent, legal brief-based argument that the City Commission should reject Rowe’s quest for a liquor license.
A city ordinance gives the commission discretion to reject alcohol licenses, even after standards such as the distance to churches and schools and the applicants’ background are met by the applicant. The ordinance states: “No alcoholic beverage license required by the provisions of this article shall be issued … for a location not suitable in the judgment and discretion of the board of city commissioners because of traffic congestion, general character of the neighborhood or by reason of the effect which such an establishment would have on the adjacent and surrounding properties, or on the neighborhood.”
Prompting a spirited two-month debate that pitted ASU against the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, among other clashes, Rowe says his business venture would add at least $1 million to the local economy initially and create up to 10 permanent jobs. Opponents, though, say the liquor store’s location in a poverty-stricken area and its proximity to the university and Union Missionary Baptist Church would be a detriment to the community by drawing a criminal element and increasing accessibility to alcohol.
Rowe says that in 15 years of owning Jaxx Beer & Wine on South Slappey Drive, there’s never been a violent crime on his property. But less than a week after the City Commission denied Rowe a license to revitalize blighted property on the east side last month, purportedly because of the detriment his business would cause to the neighborhood, two people were shot in the parking lot of his would-be business. And last weekend, a man was shot next door during a robbery attempt behind Shackleford Shopping Center. Both shootings occurred after 3 a.m.
The November shooting occurred at the former China Palace restaurant, which customers of adjacent Big Daddy’s Lounge use as a parking lot. Rowe says that since the commission’s 4-3 vote to deny him a license, “90 percent of everyone I’ve come in contact with, including most of the businesses and car dealerships in the area, are on the record being in favor of me putting that store there.”
Still, the opposition among City Commission members against Rowe’s alcohol-license quest diminished with Adams jumping ship Tuesday.