When City Council passed legislation last year that limited the use of liquor licenses on East Carson Street, South Side residents, tormented by drunken noise and vandalism for years, thought they finally had a defense against its worsening.
But in the first test of the ordinance this week, the planning commission recommended that City Council grant a request to bring a liquor license to 2126 E. Carson St.
The license will go not to another nightclub, but to a Middle Eastern restaurant that, by law, must close by 11 p.m.
Before the commission voted, Chairwoman Wrenna Watson said she had been to Khalil's and Ali Baba's, two restaurants similar to the one planned for East Carson, "and their type of patrons are not the type we are trying to inhibit on the South Side."
Many of the neighbors are dismayed, but the applicant's plans meet the criteria for conditional use of a liquor license, even in a district deemed to be saturated with them. The 2007 ordinance requires that, once a district reaches the saturation point, a liquor license has to meet certain criteria to be approved, first by the planning commission, then City Council.
Conditional use gives well-intentioned entrepreneurs a shot at the South Side's business. The provision recommended this week would give Najib and Nasra Aboud the chance to expand the Baba D's identity they established with an Oakland restaurant in 1998. That location is primarily a lunch business, said Dourid Aboud, the couple's son.
The plan for 2126 E. Carson St. is to focus on dinner, he said. The family applied for and got its liquor license early in 2007, but they had to make compromises to use it on East Carson.
One of the conditions is that the restaurant close at 11 p.m. Anyone who would want to use the license at the site in the future would have to close at 11 p.m.
To South Siders who have pleaded for relief to city officials and state liquor license boards, the commission's nod to Baba D's is an erosion of some power they thought they had earned. One commissioner, Paul Dick, prefaced his abstention from the vote by saying, "It would be extremely difficult for this body, the first time the issue comes up, to make an exception."
South Side resident Mary Ann Sevick said the ordinance is "the only control the community has [against] the legislatively sanctioned monopoly" of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. Their interest in keeping a revenue stream makes their oversight of licenses a "fundamental conflict of interest," she said.
The city cannot override the state's granting of liquor licenses but it can decide where they can't be.
Besides closing earlier, conditional use requires that parking and traffic volume not burden nearby businesses and residents, that dining tables outnumber bar stools and that maximum capacity be weighed to prevent another nightclub vibrating residential windows and sending revelers out into the wee hours.
Diana Nelson Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1626.