SOUTHWEST HARBOR — An upcoming change in management of a sports bar came to the attention of the Board of Selectmen last week when they received an application for a new liquor license and special amusement permit for the bar.
Selectmen were hesitant to grant the liquor license and special amusement permit because of a letter from a neighbor expressing concern about noise and activity at the bar.
Jose O. Feliciano, who owned Joey’s Place on Main Street for six years prior to last year when his son, Jose “JoJo” Feliciano Jr. took over as owner, applied for the license and permit.
A company owned by Jojo and Renee Miller has a lease agreement with Feliciano Sr. to occupy the property for one year. The lease expires Dec. 31.
“Joey, you don’t need this until Dec. 31, so there’s no urgency to do this, right?” Selectman Ryan Donahue asked. “They’re operating the liquor license until the 31st, right?”
Only one liquor license can be used in an establishment at a time. And since Feliciano Sr., is not listed on the current license, his application is for a new license, not a renewal.
“We’re going to court on the 30th of October,” Feliciano told selectmen. “So it could change. Maybe I will take it over, maybe I won’t. I don’t know.”
In June, Miller and Feliciano Jr. and their LLC filed a suit in district court against Feliciano and two LLC entities that he controls. In it, they claim that rent under the lease agreement had been more than fully paid, but they received a notice of default for alleged failure to make lease payments.
“If things go my way, I would know on the 30th,” Feliciano Sr. told the selectmen. “Then, I could probably take over Nov. 1st. That’s why I got the liquor license now. So, in case something like this happens, I have to be prepared.”
The Oct. 30 hearing was the most recent in the ongoing litigation. It focused on a motion filed by Miller and Feliciano Jr. seeking a preliminary injunction. They sought the injunction to “arrange for a third-party escrow agent to hold certain funds related to this landlord-tenant relationship,” their attorney told the Islander, and “to ensure ‘quiet enjoyment’ of the leased property to the plaintiffs.”
“The court noted at the end of the hearing that it will be granting” that preliminary injunction, the attorney said, so Feliciano Sr. is not going to resume control of the business before the end of the lease term.
When liquor license applications go before town officials, abutters to the business are notified. Michael Rindler, whose property abuts Joey’s Place, wrote to the town to describe negative experiences “we have had in the past year,” which he said included loud fights, disruptive noise, dangerous driver activity, garbage and property damage.
“I’ve looked at my share of liquor license applications and renewals,” said Selectman Kristin Hutchins during the Oct. 22 meeting. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen a complaint against somebody,” referring to the letter from the neighbor.
“I appreciate the care with which the complaint was presented [and] can see the potential for this to be difficult and offensive to the neighbors. So, I have some real concerns about approving this application.”
“I’m taking [the business] back because of what I’ve seen,” the elder Feliciano said in response to Hutchins’ comment. “That’s why I’m taking it back because I didn’t like to see what I saw in the back, a lot of fighting, a lot of arguing.”
A report from Police Chief Alan Brown was included with the license application and cited three incidents at the bar from this summer. Noise complaints were logged July 19 and Aug. 2; in both cases, when police arrived, the issue had been resolved.
The third incident, a reported fight, was also from July 19. Miller told the Islander that that incident had to do with a customer having a mental health issue and that she had been the one to call the police.
Feliciano told selectmen he had not seen the letter from Rindler, but said, “Everything that I’ve always enforced, it wasn’t being enforced … that’s why I’m coming back and trying to take it over and do it differently.”
Miller and Feliciano Jr. told the Islander they dispute that accusation. Miller said the year has been “a huge success” and they have “built up a loyal following.” She said she and Jojo had “never received any complaints from neighbors this entire year.”
At the meeting, Feliciano Sr. asked selectmen if he could retrieve missing information about the physical spaces the license would cover for the business, and return before the end of the meeting to allow for a decision. Selectmen voted in favor of tabling the discussion and decision until Feliciano returned with the missing information.
When he returned near the end of the meeting, selectmen voted unanimously in favor of granting the liquor license. Donahue asked if conditions could be included with the approval regarding the complaints listed by Rindler.
“Municipal approval is just yes or no,” Town Manager Justin VanDongen said. “It’s not a conditional approval at the municipal level.”
With town approval, Feliciano Sr. then can apply for a liquor license at the state level.
There was a lengthy discussion regarding the special amusement permit application, which asked to have amplified music, about whether outdoor televisions qualified as amplification.
“What do you want me to do?” Feliciano Sr. asked the board. “What’ll make you happy?”
Selectman Chad Terry made a motion to approve the application, as written. His motion was seconded by Allen “Snap” Willey.
“I’m still bothered by live music and DJ,” said Hutchins.
Despite the concerns, selectmen unanimously approved the permit application that included mechanical amplification of music outside from noon to 7 p.m. and inside the establishment from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.
“We’re keeping our eyes and ears on you,” Selectman Lydia Goetze commented after the permit was approved.
CORRECTION: The print version of this story misstated the nature of the court action related to the business. The complaint was filed June 12 by plaintiffs the Next Level, LLC; Renee Miller; and Jose O. Feliciano Jr. against defendants Feliciano’s, LLC; Village Wash Tub, LLC; and Jose O. Feliciano Sr. seeking declaratory judgment that rent under the lease agreement had been fully paid and seeking to enjoin the landlord “from any activities in opposition to the plaintiffs’ quiet enjoyment of the leased premises.” The Islander apologizes for the error.