Residents Want City to Shut Down Happy Endings Bar and Grill
By Susan Larson
Residents living near Happy Endings Bar and Grill at 1315 Princess Anne St. say they’ve been complaining for several years to the owner, city police, city staff and City Council about noise, public drunkenness and vandalism by customers of the establishment.
On May 12, City Council met in closed session to review, then in public session to discuss a report prepared by city staff in response to the continued complaints. The resulting conclusions angered residents and council members alike.
The neighbors want the city to shut down Happy Endings Bar and Grill or restrict hours, but Assistant City Manager Mark Whitley said that’s not possible because the city’s report found there have been no violations of law or city ordinances or regulations, and there have been no instances that rise to the level of a public nuisance. “They’re [Happy Endings Bar and Grill] basically in compliance with the regulations and codes that we have,” he said.
“To rise to the level of a public nuisance, where the city would be able to act to do something like close a business down, you have to meet a pretty high bar of violations,” Whitley said. “I wouldn’t say there are no violations, but it’s sort of at a level that you’d expect from a bar. And if you pulled out other bars and compared them to this bar, it really lines up.”
Residents were angered by what some said is a disregard for their quality of life. “Why does city staff continue to make excuses, instead of outlining how the council could revise zoning rules and ordinances?” said resident Tom Byrnes. “Why is the city so hell bent on protecting Happy Endings and [owner] Linda Ramer?”
City staff recommended a three-pronged approach to address the citizens’ complaints.
“Our recommendation is that we continue to enforce the codes that we have,” Whitley said. He also suggested the city better define its rules for outdoor patios. “There are different fine detail aspects of that, as to what a patron can and can’t do, and what it means to operate on the patio,” he said. The bar is not allowed to serve customers on the patio past 10 p.m., but customers may take their food and beverages onto the patio. Whitely suggested the city could “continue to refine that with our zoning.”
The building in which Happy Endings operates has been a restaurant since the 1930’s, and was grandfathered into modern zoning rules. The outdoor cafe is on private property, and therefore does not need city approval to operate, said City Attorney Kathleen Dooley.
Finally, city staff recommended mediation. “Our finding is that this is a dispute that can be settled between the private parties, so if we can facilitate mediation we would be happy to do that and we would recommend that,” Whitley said.
Councilor Matt Kelly disagreed. “Just to say there’s nothing we can do about it, let them take care of it is inappropriate,” he said. Kelly wants the city to be more aggressive with issues like drunk in public and he wants the city to institute an effective noise ordinance, saying the current one is “useless.”
“We do have a serious problem when the bars shut down downtown,” he said. “So to sit here and say it doesn’t rise to the level of a big problem is frankly disingenuous at best. We do have a problem, and the problem goes beyond Happy Endings.”
“I think the bar [Happy Endings], knowing it’s in a residential location, owes the resident’s around them a higher standard of rules and regs and how they handle their establishment,” Kelly said.
“If it’s one in the morning and you can’t sleep, then that’s a lot of noise,” said Councilor Charlie L. Frye, Jr., Ward 4.
“There are things the bar owner can do on their own without legally being required to do them,” said Kerry Devine, councilor at large. “I would like to see us continue the pressure [on Happy Endings], because I think it’s going to take that to bring some changes.”
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