It doesn't seem like a topic that would warrant much discussion. After all, how many ways can you measure 300 feet?
When it comes to the city of Atlanta's alcohol laws, however, determining 300 feet is no simple task. And it's particularly problematic for a historic Virginia-Highland theater whose owner wants to operate it as a convention center hosting bar mitzvahs, weddings, live music and community theater.
All Atlanta businesses that serve booze -- with the exception of restaurants and large shopping centers -- must do so at least 300 feet from the nearest private residence. On the surface, the rule shouldn't pose a problem for the fully restored and ready-to-open Hilan Theatre. The owner of the Hilan has mapped the nearest residence at 315 feet from the theater's door, according to the theater's liquor license application.
A lawyer retained by the Virginia-Highland Civic Association, however, is challenging that measurement. Jonathan Weintraub says his gauge of 300 feet would place the Hilan well within range of the nearest home. As a result, the 1932 structure tucked behind the Ben & Jerry's and Starbucks on North Highland Avenue -- complete with two bars, two greenrooms, a rooftop deck and room for more than 700 people -- would be prohibited from pouring.
"What you have," says Peggy Harper, a member of the city board that votes on liquor license applications, "is a contradiction."
Harper says the License & Review Board, which is scheduled to rule on the Hilan's liquor license application on Aug. 15, will have to decide whether to consider a newer definition of how to measure 300 feet -- or adhere to the previous definition, which still exists in another part of the alcohol code. What's more, the theater's application was filed before the definition was changed.
The newer part of the code says 300 feet "shall be measured by straight line." The older definition states distances "shall be measured by the pedestrian route of traffic."
Weintraub claims that, if measuring by straight line, the nearest residence is fewer than 90 feet from the Hilan.
He also claims the "pedestrian route" still would be less than 300 feet -- if the Hilan's owner, Jeff Notrica, hadn't constructed a hallway through which patrons must "zig-zag" to get to the theater's door. "It's so obviously an artifice to try to get around the distance requirement," Weintraub alleges.
He says the civic association opposes the theater due to the vehicle traffic and noise that are likely to accompany it.
Notrica and his attorney, Michael Sard, declined comment.
Sard, however, is well-acquainted with the acrimony of sophisticated neighborhood associations. In 1993, he represented the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group in a successful battle against the Buckhead Neighborhood Alliance -- and paved the way for a now-iconic 65-foot copper fish to be erected atop the Atlanta Fish Market on Pharr Road.
The License & Review Board is scheduled to vote on the Hilan Theatre's liquor license application on Tues., Aug. 15, at 5 p.m., in committee room No. 2 of Atlanta City Hall, 55 Trinity Ave. The meeting is open to the public.
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