Permit denial prompts lawsuit

Published 3:00 am Saturday, January 16, 2016

The businessman denied a beer-pub license for his proposed entertainment venue in Springhill is suing the Pike County Commission.

Commissioners in September 2015 denied Chris Dickens’ request for a license that would allow him to develop a restaurant and entertainment venue at the old Cooter’s Store in the Springhill community on Highway 87.

In October, a suit was filed by CBC LLC against the commission, claiming the decision to deny the license was “arbitrary and capricious.” Dickens is asking the court to overturn the commission’s decision and grant an alcohol license. The trial is set for March 31 in Pike County Circuit Court.

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“We don’t think there is a substantive reason for the denial,” said Joel Williams, who represents Dickens and CBC. “We weren’t provided with (any reasons) except ‘I don’t like it.’”

Dickens made the request for a license in August 2015 and, after delaying the decision, the commission denied the request on Sept. 14, 2015.

“We are very disappointed with the decision and the way we were treated because it was very one-sided,” Dickens told The Messenger at the time. “(The commissioners’) minds were made up when they got there. They turned it down without even questioning what it was or what it could be. They didn’t come meet with us to ask what it was going to be.”

Dickens, who is the culinary arts instructor at Charles Henderson High School and also operated the now-closed Sweet Rack Ribs in downtown Troy, said at the time he planned to create an establishment with a brew pub atmosphere. He said the venue would not actually brew beer on the premises, but would require the “brew pub” license from the state to operate. He said he planned to offer memberships to the private area of the facility, but the restaurant would be open to the public. He also sought to provide an entertainment venue and a family-oriented atmosphere.

Residents from nearby Springhill attended the September commission meeting to oppose the request, citing concerns over the type of venue it would be and the alcohol sales. “I think if you look at the name of this establishment – pub and brewery – it tells you the purpose of this store,” said Keith Reynolds. “That, in turn, tells you their No. 1 goal is to sell alcohol.”

At the time, District 3 Commissioner Jimmy Barron was the only one to vote in favor of the request. “I’m a firm believer of giving somebody a chance until they prove me wrong,” told The Messenger. “I think he deserved a chance to open his business.”

Barron cited other businesses with liquor licenses in that area.

“You’ve got the Dollar General across from the church that sells beer and wine, other establishments sell it and then there is Dirty Ernie’s bar,” Barron said. “We’ve issued all those licenses. I respect the other commissioners’ decisions, but mine was based on giving him a chance.”

Comissioner Joey Jackson told The Messenger he voted against the license. “I voted no,” Jackson said. “That’s pretty much how I felt about it.”

Williams said Friday the decision to sue was prompted in part by the commission’s inability to provide reasons for denying Dickens’ request, particularly since other establishments in the area have been granted licenses within the past two years.

“It’s fairly simple: ‘why did you give (a license) to this one but not to me?’,” Williams said. “We haven’t been provided any reasons except, ‘I don’t like it.’”

Arguments are set to begin at 9 a.m. March 21 with Judge Jeff Kelley presiding.

Allen Jones, attorney for the Pike County Commission, declined to comment.