Langley City Council nixes proposed business restrictions

The Langley City Council this week rejected a first-draft proposal from city hall to lobby state regulators to place restrictions on the liquor license of Spyhop, the new restaurant and lounge trying to open up in the space formerly occupied by Mo’s Pub & Eatery.

During the council’s meeting Monday night, tensions rose and the discussion veered away from the topic at hand, resulting in a long back-and-forth about the rights of a business, fairness by the city, and past problems with a restaurant and lounge on Second Street. At an earlier meeting in March, the council discussed submitting comments to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board regarding the liquor license renewal of Spyhop, a business in waiting on Second Street in the former Mo’s Pub & Eatery building. What came back was largely unacceptable to the council members and to at least one of the new owners, Susan Morgan.

“I feel like comparing us to her (former owner Maureen Cooke) is not fair,” Morgan said. “It’s singling us out.”

There were four conditions requested by the City of Langley in the initial draft letter that was presented to the council. They included: Amplified live music must be prohibited; that any outdoor portion be closed by 9 p.m.; that the business close and people vacate no later than 10 p.m.; and that the post-closing cleanup be completed and employees vacated by 10:30 p.m.

Councilman Thomas Gill proposed removing the last two conditions as being unfair restrictions on a business that has yet to open its doors. He also said the closing and cleanup hours conditions were unfair because the city has rules about noise and restricted nuisance noise hours that apply to zones, not specific business.

“We cannot regulate that on a per location basis,” Gill said.

The state issues liquor licenses to businesses. During the process, municipalities can comment to the board on the specific license.

“This is an opportunity for comment and placing these issues on the record,” Mayor Tim Callison said.

The City of Snohomish asked the state in 2015 to not renew liquor licenses from businesses it claimed had consistent problems of over-serving, noise and rowdy crowds. The issue remains unresolved.

Langley has its own history with the Spyhop location. Under previous owner Maureen Cooke, persistent complaints were made about noise from the Mo’s Pub & Eatery lounge and restaurant, from its outdoor patio, from the alley next to it frequented by the smoking crowd (forced outside because of a state law), and from crowds dispersing at closing to their cars and homes.

Citations were rare, Police Chief Dave Marks said, as catching people in the act of being loud is difficult. One was issued this past August, carrying a $150 fine.

What makes the location unique, and controversial, is its proximity to residences. It lacks any meaningful buffer, such as another business, and abuts against the property lines of several single family homes. That it was ever allowed in the first place was probably a mistake on the city’s part, Mayor Tim Callison said. A city review showed the buffer between the business and homes was measured improperly, he said.

But, what’s done is done, he said, and now the city is trying to balance residents’ concerns and rights with the vested rights of the new business owners, Dan and Susan Morgan, to operate a lounge and restaurant there.

What was once a headache for the city — playing mediator between the business owner and its neighbors — may not be as much of an issue. Victoria Locke Carty, one of the next door neighbors, said she and several of the other neighbors had met with the Morgans and felt confident that they were going to be better managers of the business and more respectful of their wishes.

“It’s about moving forward and communicating,” Locke Carty said. “Communication is key.”

One other neighbor was not as convinced. Micky Sarkis asked about the hearing examiner process during the public comment section of the council’s meeting and wanted to know the council’s position on another business opening there with the intention of having a bar.

The council unanimously approved the letter, having removed the hours of operation requirements and amending the outdoor use hours and amplified live music conditions to be consistent with existing city code. Morgan said they do not plan on having amplified live music.