Business violated Troy city codes

Published 11:00 pm Friday, May 31, 2013

A weekend open house by a controversial new downtown lounge violated city codes, officials said.

Owners of Aposha Café & Hookah Lounge held an open house at their Love Street location on Saturday evening. The event, advertised via social media and fliers, drew about 100 people and offered free pastries, specialty tea and hookah smoking.

And although the owners received conditional approval for a business license from the city, they technically were in violation of city code by hosting the event, said Junior Register, Troy Building Official.

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“Before a building can be occupied, it has to be inspected and then we issue a certificate of occupancy,” Register explained. “They are not ready for final inspection yet. There are some things that could have gone wrong without us doing that [before the event].”

Aposha owner Richard Jones said he had no idea the open house was a violation and had even contacted Fire Marshal Willie Jones to ask about the event prior to hosting it.

“Basically, we just wanted people to come through so we could give them information on how we were going to connect with the community,” Jones said. “We would never do anything that we thought was a violation, at all.”

The licensing process for a new business – particularly one that seeks to sell alcohol or tobacco – is a multi-phase process.

“Before anybody can conduct business in the city, they must first obtain a business license,” said City Clerk Alton Starling.

The application seeks information about the company’s name and tax identification number, among other things, and the city uses that information to verify a business owner’s authenticity.

“If it is a doctor or lawyer or certified public accountant, we have to verify with the state that they have a license,” Starling said.

As city clerk, Starling is granted power by the city to issue licenses for those types of businesses. However, certain types applications that include the sale of beer, wine or alcohol, such as the one Aposha owners made, must be approved by the city council and may take longer to process.

Starling said owners must first make an application to the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to obtain the state-issued license to operate. That same application is then submitted to the city of Troy along with an application for a local business license.

“We do a background check on the individual,” Starling said. “Then the council may have concerns about the business’ proximity to a school or church. If it is going to be a bar, how will traffic flow in and out?”

Once the council approves the business license, an establishment still has to pass through other approvals before it can open to the public.

“The business license has nothing to do with the occupancy of the building,” Starling said. “We’ll turn on their lights so they can get the business ready, but the business must be inspected first.”

That inspection addresses determining if there are enough exits in a bar, if the electrical work is up to code and if other facilities are in order. If everything is up to code per the city’s building official and the fire marshal’s office, a certificate of occupancy is issued and the business can open.

In the case of Aposha, the city council conditionally approved the business’ license on May 14, noting building concerns would have to be addressed before the license could actually be issued.

On Friday, Register said Aposha had not been inspected for occupancy because the business still needs to complete a couple of tasks – including construction of a second bathroom and building stairs at the back door to accommodate an emergency exit.

That means the open house that Aposha held on May 25 was in violation of city code, despite the business not selling any products

Register specifically noted a drop off of 36 or 40 inches above grade outside the business’ back door, along with electrical items that weren’t complete the last time the property was inspected. Both of those, he said, were safety concerns.

Register said the city does have a $500 a day fine for operating a business in Troy without obtaining a license and certificate of occupancy, but also said Aposha owners would likely not be assessed that fine.

Jones said he hopes to complete renovations and open the business to the community within two weeks.

In a separate issue, the business plan for Aposha Café & Hookah Lounge may have to change if the Troy City Council approves a smoking ban for all public places within the city. The ban would eliminate smoking in all Troy bars and other businesses. The first reading of an amendment to the city’s 2006 smoking ordinance could happen as early as June 11.

“No matter what, we will still open an upscale business,” Jones said. “We will go from there.”