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More than a few Friends have wondered in recent days why Angela Hunt, Pauline Medrano and the City Attorney's Office are, as we first reported, currently drafting an ordinance to shut down improperly permitted Lower Greenville bars masquerading as restaurants. In the words of Friend of Unfair Park "Sanguine" on Monday, "The city can crack down in an hour on a harmless neighborhood farmer's market, but it takes years to close down a bar that doesn't have the proper zoning?"
In the comments to yesterday's follow-up interview with Deputy Chief Vincent Golbeck, Hunt answered that very question. For those who might not always click through, this is what the council member wrote:
The bars game the system. The State of Texas has a bad definition that distinguishes bars from restaurants: Restaurants get less than 75% of their gross revenue from alcohol. Bars get 75% or more of their gross revenue from alcohol. If you're at 74.9%, you can be considered a restaurant and not have to go through the public process of obtaining a specific use permit from the city (and obtaining council approval). That process gives the public, the police, code, and council some authority over whether these bars are allowed to operate.
So when the city audits businesses that we suspect are bars masquerading as restaurants, the bars add up their valet fees and t-shirt fees and pad their "gross receipts" with everything possible so that they don't go over the 75% threshold and barely meet the definition of a restaurant. Are they legal? I think they're padding their receipts and are in reality receiving more than 75% of their gross revenue from alcohol. But proving that in court is another matter, and it's like playing whack-a-mole -- even when we're successful in shutting down one illegal operator, another pops up in their place and we have to start all over again.
So as Deputy Chief Golbeck said, we have to move forward on other ways to address the Lower Greenville problem comprehensively.