Town withholds liquor license for new Albion restaurant

Town withholds liquor license for new Albion restaurant

Town officials are withholding a liquor license for 119 Main Street LLC for its proposed restaurant Vine & Tap after neighbors claimed they never had the chance to speak out at the public hearing. (Breeze photo by Nicole Dotzenrod)
Neighbors say they weren’t notified of potential alcohol sales

LINCOLN – The town of Lincoln is withholding a previously approved liquor license that would have allowed Vine & Tap, a new restaurant planned in Albion, to serve alcohol to its patrons.

During a meeting last November, the Town Council held a public hearing on the proposed license for 119 Main LLC. There was no one in attendance to speak out against the license, but neighbors said that’s because they weren’t notified that the meeting was taking place.

It wasn’t until the owner of the house at 121 Main St., Mike Napolitano, noticed Jack Daniels posters being installed on an entrance to the restaurant that he questioned whether a bar was set to open next door. In speaking to members of the council, Napolitano said he was told that notice of the hearing was printed in The Breeze. Later, town officials told him they also sent notice by mail, as required by law, to the abutters.

“I never received notice. When I first contacted the town, they told me that they didn’t have to notify me … that it was posted in The Breeze and no one showed up at the meeting. Then the story changed and they said we were all notified,” he explained.

The law requires that property owners within a 200-foot radius of the proposed license/establishment be notified when the owner pursues a liquor license. A dozen or so property owners abutting 119 Main St., the future home of Vine & Tap, have signed legal affidavits claiming they never received notice.

“Everyone was upset because none of us were notified,” Napolitano said. He filed a public records request for the list of abutters before visiting them with an attorney and a notary public. Each of the 12 abutters, including the owner of Landry’s Auto Services next door, signed the document declaring they hadn’t received notice.

Town Administrator Joseph Almond said the town clerk told him that the hearing date was published in The Breeze and that a copy of the ad was sent to abutters via first class mail.

Asked whether this issue has come up before, Almond said this is the only instance he’s aware of. Notice of public hearings, he said, is always sent out by mail and published in the newspaper.

“We received communication from an attorney representing at least one abutter that the town intentionally did not send out notice. The town (contests) that,” he said. “We will do our best to determine if there was an error in notice or if in fact they were sent. In the interim, we have no reason to dispute the affidavits.”

Along with the affidavits came allegations that the applicant lied about having a criminal record on his license application. The applicant is named as 119 Main LLC, with Michael McAteer listed as an officer. The document reads: “have any officers, board members or stockholders ever been arrested or convicted of a crime?” The answer “no” is circled.

McAteer told The Breeze that the application was filled out to the best of his knowledge as the LLC manager, and that he circled “no” because he was under the impression that the document referred to the LLC, not him. “It was a clerical error that I’m working with an attorney to solve,” he said. “I was trying to answer the question correctly.”

McAteer said he isn’t trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, and admitted that he has a record that’s more than 15 years old related to driving with a suspended license and doing contracting jobs without a license.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to move forward in the correct manner and do the right thing. I don’t want to cause problems in the neighborhood,” he said.

Almond said regardless of whether “yes” or “no” was answered on the application, and while it’s not a requirement, he encourages the clerk to conduct a background check on any liquor license applicant. Because the applicant stated he had no record, the issue was not brought up.

“The Town Council should have been afforded a background check,” Almond said. While there is nothing in writing that would prevent someone with a criminal record from being awarded a liquor license, Almond said the council has a right to weigh that record.

The lack of notice and the incorrect application have triggered a new public hearing, set for March 19 at Town Hall. In the interim period, no BV license will be issued to Vine & Tap.

Napolitano said he will be in attendance for this one, but he questioned why the applicant is being afforded the opportunity to be heard again after lying on the original application. He said he’s disappointed with the manner in which the situation was dealt with.

“We had to hire an attorney for them to take this seriously,” he said.

“The neighbors and our attorney will be at the meeting,” he said. “We don’t want a liquor license at that location no matter who it’s for. It doesn’t belong there.”

Going forward, Almond said there may be some changes made to the process so that this doesn’t happen again, such as requiring mailings to be certified or requesting background checks for all liquor license applicants.

McAteer plans to open the restaurant soon, with or without a liquor license. He said he has passed all of his inspections and was waiting on the plumbing inspection as of press time.

“I’ve invested too much in this place to walk away now,” he said. “I’m still looking to open.”

Almond said the restaurant could still open because a victualing license for food does not inquire about the applicant’s criminal record. As soon as the requirements are met and inspections are complete, the town will release that license.