Council to probe link in liquor sales, crime

Council is split on whether or not to shut down the businesses.
WARREN -- Neighborhood crime and liquor sales.
What do the two have in common, if anything?
That's what the city must determine before it decides whether to object to the renewal of liquor licenses for three businesses.
City council has heard three proposals for objections to renewals for Christy's Market, 408 Atlantic St. N.E., Fiesta at the Waterworks, 999 Mahoning Ave. N.E., and Austin Beverage, 2819 W. Market St.
Sponsors of the legislation say the establishments contribute to neighborhood crime, such as illegal drug sales.
Proving that will be difficult, according to law director Greg Hicks.
& quot;We need to be able to show a direct correlation between problems in the neighborhood and the sale of liquor, & quot; he said.
What this is about: Council is expected to discuss the matter at tonight's meeting and has until Sept. 4 to register an objection with the Ohio Department of Liquor Control, the state agency that issues licenses.
Alford Novak, D-2nd, sponsored legislation objecting to permits for Christy's and the Fiesta.
He said lawmakers, citizens and law enforcement officers can register objections with the state if they believe a particular business interrupts the peace and sobriety of a neighborhood.
Residents in his ward, where the two businesses are located, have complained about numerous disturbances at both, including drug sales, loitering, fighting, robberies and shootings.
& quot;Basically, they want to take their neighborhood back, & quot; Novak said.
The councilman said he has a large stack of police reports involving crimes at Christy's.
Hicks pointed out that witnesses many times are unwilling to speak out against known criminals when hearings on the objections are conducted.
Discussion: Brendan Keating, D-5th, questioned how lawmakers determine neighborhood problems are the fault of business owners. & quot;To me, it sounds like a law enforcement issue, & quot; he said.
Gary Fonce is a former Warren police officer and is seeking an at-large council seat in November.
& quot;I've watched drug transactions in Christy's parking lot, & quot; he said, noting it's located in a ward with the largest transient population.
Problems would surface somewhere else if such businesses lose their licenses or are closed down, he said.
Christy's manager Ed Farhan told the committee he does his best to comply with and enforce city laws. Novak said Farhan has not been cooperative in the past.
Helen Rucker, D-6th, said she's battled similar problems in her neighborhood and noted they cannot be attributed to the sale of liquor alone.
Many crimes have occurred at one business in her ward which doesn't have a liquor license, she said.
John Homlitas, D-3rd, said objecting to permits would be a first step toward trying to shut the businesses down, something he's not sure he can support.
He said that would put people out of work and injure the city's tax base.

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