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One More Club denied a liquor license

The Park Rapids City Council voted 4-1 on Nov. 15 to deny Gregory Parsons' application for a liquor license due to the location's proximity to a group home.

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Gregory Parsons, shown here addressing the Park Rapids Planning Commission on July 11, 2022, was denied a liquor license Nov. 15, 2022 to operate One More Club at 1012 Birch St.
Park Rapids Enterprise file photo
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The Park Rapids City Council on Nov. 15 denied a liquor license for One More Club at 1012 Birch St.

The decision came after a public hearing at a special meeting attended by a standing-room-only crowd. Several participants spoke up after the hearing, voicing dissatisfaction with the council’s action.

This new development followed a long and contentious permitting process for owner Gregory Parsons, who has operated One More Club out of Lori Lea Lanes at 1400 1st St. E. for the past six years and sought to move the bar to a business district south of the Super 8 motel.

The Park Rapids Planning Commission had twice recommended approval of Parsons’ requests for a conditional use permit (CUP) following public hearings. Meanwhile, the city council tabled the question on April 26, after a hearing where neighborhood residents objected to the bar due to concerns about traffic and parking in the neighborhood’s narrow streets.

The council then denied Parson’s initial CUP application on May 24, before approving an amended CUP application on July 26.

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Timeline

City Administrator Angel Weasner opened discussion of the liquor license with the following timeline of events since July 26:

  • July 27: The city received notice of a possible issue regarding the liquor license for the proposed bar. She said a letter from Hubbard County pointed out that a group home within 1,000 linear feet of the location was under the supervision of the Minnesota Commissioner of Human Services. 
  • Aug. 2: A memo was sent to Parsons informing him of the potential problem.
  • Aug. 8: Parsons applied for a plumbing permit.
  • Aug. 15: Minnesota Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement said it is the city’s responsibility to deny a liquor license if it is prohibited by state law.
  • Aug. 16: Parsons was issued a building permit for remodeling.
  • Between Aug. 16 and 31: Weasner asked Parsons if he understood he may not get his liquor license, and he said yes.
  • Sept. 13: City Clerk Berit Score sent a letter informing Parsons that not all the required information for a liquor license had been submitted. 
  • Oct. 13: All the documentation was received for a liquor license and it was sent to the city attorney for review.
  • Oct. 14: The city attorney recommended denial of the liquor license.
  • Oct. 21: Parsons was sent a letter by certified mail regarding the Nov. 15 public hearing.
  • Nov. 15: The city received a letter from Parsons’ attorney with additional information.

Despite the council chambers being packed to overflowing with spectators, only five people spoke up during the public hearing regarding One More Club.

Parsons hits back

Parsons rolled the timeline farther back:

  • Nov. 10, 2021: When he was thinking about purchasing the building at 1012 Birch St., Score and Planning Assistant Carmen Lockhart said yes when Parsons asked if he could get a liquor license at the address.
  • Jan. 7: Parsons purchased the building. 
  • Approximately March 17: The city’s building inspector found him doing work on the building and told him he needed to apply for a CUP.

After receiving the CUP, Parsons said, he was told the bar couldn’t open unless all doors opened out, the restrooms were handicap accessible and a firewall divided the bar area from the attached garage. He made these improvements, and the property passed the city’s building and plumbing inspections.
Parsons complained of the city dunning him for fees no one had told him about, sending notices to Pizza Ranch after he had asked staff to direct correspondence to his P.O. box, receiving notice of a meeting postmarked the day before the meeting and learning about the Nov. 15 hearing through Facebook.

“I have been so misinformed, it’s just not right,” he said. He questioned how the Revel Brewery and Wine Not? Have liquor licenses within blocks of the Hubbard County Developmental Achievement Center.

“I’m not sure how you can lead a person on this long,” he said, “and then at the end, try and say, ‘No, we’re not going to give you a liquor license.’”

Parsons asked the council to consider the gaming revenue that hs gone through his bar to benefit the city police department, as well as his taxes.

“The city does get money back out of me having a bar,” he said. “I really think you guys should consider how much I do contribute to the city of Park Rapids.”

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He also complained about having to hire an engineer to design what city engineer Jon Olson had already sketched, regarding a drainage plan that city planner Ben Oleson felt was necessary. Parsons said Olson told him it would be a conflict of interest to let Parsons use his work in his CUP application.

Weasner clarified that when Olson and Oleson visited Parsons’s property, “they were there to protect the city’s interests.”

Other comments

Vicky Safratowich described One More Club as a family bar where people get along and where she feels comfortable as a single woman.

“They have fought so hard for what they’re trying to accomplish,” she said. “I just think it’s wrong, what’s going on here.”

William Fitch, representing a number of neighborhood residents, said, “The group home is blended into our neighborhood for several years. We the residents would like to go on record as being in agreement with the state’s denial, per their statute.”

Sandy Rognstad recalled the Parsons planning to open One More Club six years ago, “which they did, and were very successful. Now, with the passing of Lori Lea Lanes, their establishment was in jeopardy of closing down. So, they pursued to buy their own establishment and call it their own.

“They have been very successful for six years. They paid their taxes and, wow! They never heard any complaints.”

“I understand that this man was led to believe that he could open a business where he’s currently trying to reside,” Kevin Christenson said, adding that “he needs a place where he can maintain it to his standard, not theirs [Lori Lea Lanes]. You people are pushing him down.”

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Council debate

Following closure of the public hearing, Weasner told the council the staff recommendation was to deny One More Club’s liquor license. Council member Tom Conway made a motion to deny the license.

While the motion awaited a second, spectators began to call out questions and criticize the process. Council member Erika Randall admonished them that it was the council’s turn to talk.

As questions persisted, Randall and Mayor Ryan Leckner explained meeting procedures to the crowd.

Despite these admonitions, spectator Gene Bos said opponents of One More Club should visit the bar before they pass judgment.

After Randall seconded the motion, Conway asked what would result if the city approved the liquor license. Weasner cited Minnesota Statute 340A.412, which prohibits liquor licenses “within 1,000 feet of (an) institution under the supervision or control, in whole or in part, of the commissioner of human services.”

She said that according to Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement, the city has to deny the license if it is against state law. She said that if the city is in the wrong, the case may be litigated and the state can overturn the council’s decision.

Specifically asked what would result if the city approves the license contrary to state law, Weasner said, “I have never had that happen. I do not know the answer.”

Leckner said the city has to follow the statute.

Council member Liz Stone questioned the definition of the entity at issue. Weasner described it as a group home, or “home and community-based service,” per Minnesota Statute 245D, licensed by Hubbard County and supervised by the state Commissioner of Human Services.

Bos questioned the state’s right to speak for residents of the group home, concluding they don’t have a right to decide for themselves.

“Well, it’s a law,” said Randall.

“There are certain laws that should be changed,” said Bos.

Parsons said he wanted to know how Revel Brewery was allowed to open, but Leckner said the council needed to “keep it to our meeting.”

“We’re not done yet,” Bos challenged.

Leckner called for a vote. Conway’s motion to deny the license passed 4-1, with Stone opposed.

Aftermath

Following the vote, an unidentified woman said, “Look at all the money (Parsons) spent. Where does that come in? Shouldn’t you guys have told him that to begin with, before he started?”

Stone repeated that the city did not know about the liquor license issue until July 27.

“It was unfortunate,” said Leckner, “but we do have to follow the laws of the state.”

Asked when the group home was started, Weasner said the city does not know. When someone called, “You should know that if we’re debating this,” multiple council members said, “We’re not debating it.”

Council members asked the audience to clear the room so they could move on to their next item of business. While spectators were leaving, a man who declined to identify himself berated the council for not knowing about the conflict with the group home earlier in the process.

“You know the rules and the regulations,” he said. “(Parsons) spent all that money while you’re sitting there doing nothing. How absurd that is. … The whole reason for him being there was to have a bar. And then you don’t inform him, lead him on with all that money?

“You should reimburse him for everything that you failed. You failed as a city council to do your job that you’re elected for.”

In other business, the council certified the results of the Nov. 8 city election, in which Ryan Leckner was re-elected as mayor for a two-year term, and Timothy D. Little and Joe Christensen were newly elected as council members with a four-year term.

Stone made a motion to certify the canvass, and it passed unanimously.

The city council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 22 at city hall.

MORE RELATED COVERAGE:
Two conditional use permits and two planning and zoning requests were approved on Nov. 22.

Robin Fish is a staff reporter at the Park Rapids Enterprise. Contact him at rfish@parkrapidsenterprise.com or 218-252-3053.
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