License appeal heads to court

Published 3:00 am Saturday, March 19, 2016

A hearing begins at 9 a.m. Monday in a lawsuit filed against the Pike County Commission over its denial of a liquor license.

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.

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“We don’t think there is a substantive reason for the denial,” Joel Williams, who represents Dickens and CBC, said at the time the suit was filed.

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

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, alcohol sales and safety concerns due to the location.

On Monday, commissioners denied a second request for an on-premises beer and liquor license at the same location. This request was filed by Dickens’ wife, Amanda Dickens, on behalf of Southern Restaurant Group, which is doing business as Live Oak Bar and Grill.

More than two dozen residents of the Springhill Community were on hand for the commission meeting, showing their solidarity and opposition to the venture. Leon Fortune spoke on behalf of the members of Springhill Baptist Church and the residents of the community. “I’m not just speaking for Springhill Baptist Church but for the many residents who have talked to me and to others,” he said. “We are making our objections known.”

Fortune again cited safety concerns over the location of the proposed restaurant, which would be near a hill on Highway 87. “The residents in the community are opposed to this location,” he said.

In both cases, commissioners’ denied the request on a 5-1 vote, with commissioners R.A. Goodson, Homer Wright, Robin Sullivan, Joey Jackson and Charlie Harris voting against the license and Jimmy Barron voting in favor of issuing it.

Commissioners declined to comment on their decision at the March 15 meeting, citing the pending litigation and Monday’s hearing. The hearing will take place with Circuit Judge Jeff Kelly at the Pike County Courthouse.