Council postpones supper club rezone over liquor issues

KINGMAN - It flew through the Planning and Zoning Commission, it conforms to the General Plan, and it received a recommendation to approve from development services staff, but the request for a change of zoning to allow a supper club and lounge on Bank Street came to a halt before the City Council on Monday.

The potential buyer of the property is not thrilled about the holdup, and one of the current landowners, an outspoken critic of city officials in recent years, is seeing the scrutiny as mere politicking.

The current landowners of the 1.04-acre property are asking to change the zoning from residential to commercial so the buyer can build a "classy" dinner club that will have a small dance floor with music. It would be the first business built on the two-mile stretch of Bank Street, which the city planned as the next commercial corridor and an alternative to the congested Stockton Hill Road thoroughfare.

During a public hearing Monday, Councilman Tom Spear expressed some concern over the type of business that would be locating there. In the application, the business is described as "a restaurant that provides entertainment and dancing." The conversation among Council members turned to "night clubs" or similar-typed establishments that sell mostly alcohol rather than food.

Spear asked the city attorney to research whether or not the city would be able to place a condition on the rezone that would bar certain types of liquor licenses, and Council voted to postpone the case. State law gives cities the authority to make recommendations on liquor licenses to the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses and Control, but City Attorney Carl Cooper said after the meeting that the city "cannot regulate the license itself, but I am looking into if we have the ability to put a condition on the rezone and not allow certain types of liquor licenses on that property."

Spear was particularly concerned about the supper club's proximity to North Kingman High School, which is nearly three-quarters of a mile from the site. State law already prohibits alcohol sales within 300 feet of schools. Also, the proposed 7,500-square-foot restaurant actually is farther from KHS than two area liquor stores, which are just over a half-mile from the school campus.

The potential buyer, Deborah Raney, is waiting to get the rezone before she purchases the land and begins construction, but she hopes things will make enough progress to allow her to break ground and possibly even open by December.

"I was very disappointed with the city," she said after hearing that Council did postponed the rezone.

Raney expected the request to go through without any trouble. There were no qualms expressed during the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting last month, and she said that governing bodies usually don't question the type of business until there is a plat or a liquor license application submitted.

In countering arguments about a noisy nightclub or liquor-based establishment, Raney said, "My intention is to have a lounge and supper club like in the older days - easy-listening music. It will be for the older generation. The kids won't like the music, so it won't be rowdy."

She remains hopeful that the rezone will go through without further delay when Council picks up the case again in two weeks. One of the current landowners, however, is considering removing the item from the May 19 agenda and waiting to re-hear the issue until the new Council takes office June 2.

"I'm scared to death of these guys," said Jay Schritter, a co-owner of the property with his son and two partners, Lee Bruno and Jeff Goldberg.

If Council were to deny the request, the case would not be allowed to come back before Council for a year.

Schritter noted that liquor license regulation has nothing to do with rezone cases, but he said he wasn't surprised by Council's scrutiny over his request.

"It's just a real immature type deal," he said in an interview Wednesday. "All it is is something to slow us down. It's my name on that application, and of course Spear hates me and so does (Councilman Kerry) Deering."

Schritter has been an outspoken critic of city officials in the last year, most notably during controversies surrounding former City Manager Paul Beecher's employment. Schritter's most recent involvement was during the Nov. 7 election.

To discourage voters from approving the city's request for $56.7 million in capital improvement bonds and several Kingman Crossing ballot measures, Schritter erected signs around town to remind voters about e-mail lawsuits, well site bidding controversies and IRS threats - issues that created a hot political climate in 2007.

Also muddying the relationship is Craig Schritter's twice-failed attempts to recall Spear. Craig Schritter, one of four candidates vying for two remaining Council positions and the son of Jay, took out recall petitions because he believed that Spear had created a conflict of interest when his hotel named the city in a lawsuit. Spear's business had been sued over the death of one guest and the injury of another following a carbon monoxide poisoning on Valentine's Day 2004. Spear says that it was his insurance provider's decision to sue the city.

Asked about Schritter's comments as to why Council held up the rezone request, Spear said, "Well, my response is I'm concerned about what kind of an establishment is going to go that close to a school." He acknowledged that two liquor stores are already near the high school, but he noted that they "are not within city limits, so we don't really have the control."

Asked again if he was "playing politics" with Schritter because of their previous encounters, Spear repeated, "I'm concerned what's going in next to the school."

He then added, "You want a comment off the record? No, you don't."