Fayetteville council eyes downtown area in private club consideration

Posted: November 8, 2017 at 1:09 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/STACY RYBURN Police Chief Greg Tabor speaks Tuesday to the Fayetteville City Council about violence in parts of the city's entertainment district.

FAYETTEVILLE -- A new state law has given the City Council a chance to consider whether another bar in a problematic area of the entertainment district could lead to more 2 a.m. skirmishes.

Council members on Tuesday left on its first reading an ordinance allowing a private club to set up shop on West Avenue near Watson Street. The establishment, called VIP Club, would have people sign in to enter. Sami Ammar Haddaji, owner of Basha Hookah Lounge and the Mediterranean Truck, submitted the application.

Next meeting

When: 5:30 p.m. Nov. 21

Where: Room 219, City Hall, 113 W. Mountain St.

Act 1112 of 2017 makes it so private clubs have to get permission from the local government to operate. The applicant still has to get a liquor license from the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control. The act's sponsor, Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, has said the intention was to give local authorities more say in what comes into their community.

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City Attorney Kit Williams said the law doesn't carry guidance on what kind of conditions a City Council can consider when making a decision. He recommended at least providing a reason if the council were to deny an application.

Police Chief Greg Tabor said that area of the entertainment district became more problematic this year than at any other time of his tenure as chief. Several aggravated assaults, a shooting involving former Razorbacks football player Sebastian Tretola and a man being severely injured from a rock to the head all took place this summer right around closing time on weekends, he said.

Officers have gotten assistance from Washington County deputies, firefighters, university police and just about everyone they can think of to address the problem, Tabor said. People pouring out of the surrounding establishments around the same time has led to alcohol-fueled violence, and emergency vehicles have had difficulty getting through the crowds, he said.

The business that formerly occupied the space, Dickson Street Social Club, has closed. Fewer people flowing through the spot has helped, Tabor said.

"Since the middle of the summer, we've worked really, really hard -- probably harder than we've ever worked on anything -- as far as getting this under control," he said.

Kenneth Mourton, attorney for Haddaji, said his client was more than willing to work with police. The club would have half the occupancy businesses before it have had in the same space, he said, acknowledging the activity in the area.

"Certainly it's a problem, but it's a problem bigger than my client," Mourton said.

Tabor said certain measures could help, such as security guards with fake ID training, lights outside and the lower occupancy. The council requested more information about the club for its next meeting.

In other business, the council tabled for two weeks a proposal regulating small cell technology in the city. Assistant City Attorney Blake Pennington, Communications Director Susan Norton and other city officials have worked for months with telecommunications companies on the issue.

Apparatuses far smaller than today's lumbering cell towers will soon power 5G networks across the world, and the city wants an ordinance in place before then, officials have said.

Council members approved an amendment to the proposal, which was on its third reading Tuesday. Representatives from AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile asked the council to table the item for two more weeks to provide more time to go over the changes.

The council also approved buying five recycling trucks for $845,500. City officials held off on buying any new trucks over the last three years while the city's updated recycling and trash plan was being developed, Transportation Director Terry Gulley said.

Brian Pugh, waste reduction coordinator, said the city needs the trucks to maintain its recycling services. Louise Mann, an outspoken advocate for recycling, said trucks with more innovative features would help lessen the physical strain recycling crews experience on a daily basis.

All six members present agreed to buy newer versions of the same type of trucks the city has.

"Our fleet right now is barely operating," Councilwoman Sarah Bunch said. "If we don't do something pretty quick we can't do squat."

The council also approved selling its property at 833 N. Crossover Road to Central Emergency Medical Services for $175,000. Per the agreement, Central EMS would agree to operate an ambulance service from the site, which has housed fire marshals under the Fire Prevention Bureau.

NW News on 11/08/2017