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Bar owners unhappy with cabaret licenses

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Albany/HV: Bar owners unhappy with cabaret licenses
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Months after the Albany Common Council passed a law limiting live entertainment at bars in the city, bar owners are now finding out it could mean no live music after 2 a.m. That's got many worried about the potential financial hit on their businesses. Innae Park has more.

ALBANY, N.Y. -- “I think you're going to see a lot of businesses go out,” said Tess Collins, owner of McGeary’s.

Already on edge after months of discussion over the Cabaret Law, Albany business owners now say they've been driven over the edge after receiving the first round of licenses, sent out Thursday.

“Legally, there's a number of issues we found with the law. But the big thing is that it took everybody by surprise,” said Stephen DeNigris, who is representing The Waterworks Pub.

So far, the licenses limit live entertainment and amplified music to go on until 2 a.m. on weekends and until midnight Sunday through Thursday. They also restrict minors from being in places that serve alcohol after 11 p.m.

Collins said, “Restaurants, bars, businesses meet the need of neighborhoods. There's many neighborhoods where it’s fine to be open later.”

“There's a quality of life issue here. And by quality of life, I mean within the neighborhoods, safety certainly comes in when we're talking beyond 2 a.m.” said Jeffery Jamison, Albany Division of Buildings and Regulatory Compliance Director.

City officials say despite the anger, the previous laws were much more stringent. In fact, many of the places applying for licenses now had not followed proper protocol. Almost all establishments with live music were required to either receive a Special Use Permit or a Use Variance, depending on the zoning district in which they were located. Generally, businesses wishing to have live entertainment in downtown Albany or on Central Avenue required a Special Use Permit be granted, whereas on Lark Street and other neighborhood commercial districts, a Use Variance was required. Officials say many of them did not go through the process.

“Before they were operating illegally. So it really is to help them. As we were going through, what were we going to do? We didn't want to go out, cite owners every single day, every single weekend,” Jamison said.

Each application is reviewed individually, and a number of groups give recommendations before the city clerk issues the license. But that's another problem bar owners have. Some have even called upon DeNigris, a lawyer, to represent them.

“There are no standards set. We need some uniformity, we need guidelines," said DeNigris. "We don't want to litigate this with you, but if we have to, we will. We are prepared to litigate. But we'd rather work with you, it benefits everybody.”

“It’s a balance,” Collins said. “I think there's a balance that hasn't been met and it will be.”

A second round of licenses is set to be released soon. Those who have received their licenses are able to appeal them.

A rally of protest is scheduled for Monday, 5 p.m., at Townsend Park. Organizers say they plan to march down to City Hall and make their voices heard at the Common Council meeting.

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