BY SUSIE CURRIE — Call it a Tale of Two Licenses. Last month, the Hyattsville City Council rejected a West Hyattsville restaurant’s application for a dance hall license after residents at a public hearing raised concerns about potential noise and public intoxication.
But another restaurant in the same shopping center wants a permit that would allow the same activities and more – and they can get one without ever setting foot in city hall, or even notifying anyone who works there of their intentions.
It comes down to differences in a byzantine licensing system, where the separate responsibilities of city, county and state is murky at best. Overlapping roles can make it hard to identify where the jurisdiction of one ends and the other begins. For an illustration, look no further than Queens Chapel Town Center, where restaurants Acapulco Spirit and Mi Patio both want to add entertainment options to their menus.
Acapulco Spirit, as the HL&T reported last month, wants to allow customers to dance during its popular karaoke nights. In 2011, the Prince George’s County Council began requiring any business that allows public dancing to have a dance hall license issued by the the county’s Department of Environmental Resources.
So, in December, Manager David Santizo applied for one. As required, DER officials notified the nearest municipality – in this case, Hyattsville. The city then had 45 days to conduct a public hearing and register opposition, in which case DER would defer to the city and deny the license.
On February 19, the hearing was held in council chambers at city hall, and after hearing from a series of concerned neighbors, the city council opposed the request.
Less than a week later, on February 25, Mi Patio appeared on a public-hearing agenda scheduled for April 3. The restaurant had applied for a Special Entertainment Permit, which in addition to public dancing allows for essentially any live performance, from stand-up comedy to “exotic dancing performed by a stripper,” as the permit reads.
The Mi Patio application requested permission to host a “DJ playing music from the Dominican Republic” up to seven nights a week, from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m., in addition to a live band “once or twice a month,” on Friday nights.
Entertainment permits are issued by the Board of License Commissioners, also known as the Liquor Control Board. Though each county in Maryland has a branch, the liquor board is run by the state. In Prince George’s County, public hearings on license applications are held at the County Service Building, 5012 Rhode Island Avenue, where its offices are located.
While those agendas are made public at least a month in advance, there is no requirement to notify the city when a local businesses requests a permit. Indeed, when the HL&T contacted Hyattsville department heads for comment, they were unaware of the Mi Patio application. After receiving a copy of the April 3 agenda, city spokesperson Abby Sandel said that the city would be requesting a 30-day delay in the decision.
Mi Patio already has an Exemption to the Special Entertainment Permit, which the liquor board granted on September 25. In a letter granting the exemption, Chairman Franklin D. Jackson reminded owner Danny Medina that Mi Patio was prohibited from, among other things, charging admission, carding or searching patrons at the entrance, and selling “VIP seating.” Two months later, inspectors found that the restaurant was violating those terms.
Apparently, they have violated other codes as well. When the Acapulco Spirit discussion was underway, councilmember Paula Perry (Ward 4) said that Mi Patio had repeatedly generated after-hours noise complaints and police incident reports.
A public hearing on Mi Patio’s Special Entertainment License is scheduled for April 3 at 7 p.m. in the County Service Building, 5012 Rhode Island Avenue, Hearing Room 200. For additional information, contact 301.699.2770.