CASPER, Wyo. – Casper City Council approved in April the transfer of a retail liquor license from the CY Discount Liquors & Backdoor Lounge location on CY Avenue to an area near the old Ridley Building on the 1300 block of CY Avenue.
Businessman John Johnson told city council at that meeting in April about some of the Johnson Restaurant Group’s plans for the old Ridley building.
“Over the past year, a few opportunities have presented themselves to us and one of them is that we have purchased the Ridley Building on CY,” Johnson told the board. “We are going to install twenty thousand square feet of ACE equipment in [it]. We are going to move Once Upon a Child; we don’t own this business, but the lady who owns it needs more space; and then we want to move CY Liquor and Backdoor Lounge to that location.
While the city council has already approved the transfer of the liquor license, several parents of students at St Anthony Tri-Parish Catholic and Preschool School expressed their concern at the city council meeting on Tuesday, November 16 regarding the ‘Move a bar and liquor store to a location across the street. from school.
Several of the parents who spoke said they had only learned in recent weeks that CY Discount Liquor would be moving to the new location.
Pete Maxwell has spoken as a “concerned parent,” a member of the St. Anthony’s board of directors and co-owner of the Gaslight Lounge, saying that as a liquor licensee he understands the time, effort and the financial investment of projects like that of the Johnson restaurant. Group undertakes.
On the flip side, he said he also learned the hard way the importance of reaching out to neighbors and schools when looking for a liquor license. Maxwell said that when he applied for a liquor license from the city in 2016, which was ultimately awarded to the Yellowstone Garage, he asked council members at the time why his proposal was not chosen. Maxwell said council members told him that failure to contact Casper’s Montessori School was a factor.
Maxwell and the Gaslight were eventually able to get another retail liquor license, but it was billed full price rather than the license that had been issued to the Yellowstone garage. Maxwell said that before getting the liquor license for Gaslight, he spoke to Montessori to find out their concerns about the bar.
Maxwell said that as a concerned parent, he was concerned that CY Discount Liquors planned to open at 6 a.m. daily, alongside the proximity of the school bar.
“With the kids coming and going every day within yards of this facility, that makes me very worried,” said Maxwell.
He added that he understood it might be too late to remedy the situation, but said he believed the Johnson Restaurant Group should have contacted St. Anthony’s to discuss their plans in advance.
Board member Bruce Knell told Maxwell he spent time at the new CY Discount Liquors site earlier Tuesday and spoke with Johnson about the concerns people have been voicing. He said Johnson showed him that most customers would park in front of the building rather than on a lot behind the building closer to the school. Knell said Johnson had indicated that the rear parking lot would be used primarily by employees rather than customers. Knell also said Johnson made a commitment, at Knell’s suggestion, to have a fence built in the back to add a barrier between the bar and the school and the houses behind the building.
“As far as the loitering, the booze, the drunks on the outside, I just don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” Knell told Maxwell. “With 99% of their traffic coming in and out of the front door, I don’t think the school will even notice it one day. “
Knell said he also lives in the neighborhood. He added that Johnson seemed willing to accept suggestions on how to allay the concerns of locals.
Elizabeth Grill then spoke up, claiming she was a mother of two at school. She noted that there are other schools in Casper that are close to bars, but the access between schools and bars in other areas is more distinct than it will be between St. Anthony’s. and CY Discount Liquors.
She also said that St. Anthony’s may be different from other schools in terms of more traffic, as parents pick up their students rather than students being bussed. Grill said some of his concerns were allayed by reviewing how CY Discount Liquors will be accessible, saying it doesn’t look like traffic leaving the liquor store and bar will exit right outside the school.
Grill said she thought council might consider changing its zoning ordinances, noting that general commercial zoning does not require liquor stores to be away from schools. She said that since the city’s ordinances have rules requiring gambling establishments to be at least 300 feet from schools, the city could consider establishing some sort of similar rule for bars.
Council member Kyle Gamroth said council members have asked city staff to gather information on Casper’s ordinances so that council can determine if changes in this direction are needed.
Parent Jody Olson has said he’s a boss of CY Discount Liquors but doesn’t think it’s appropriate to have it located next to the school.
“Obviously we’re not supposed to drive drunk, but it does happen,” he said. “It is as if we are creating an atmosphere for trouble.”
Olson said he thought it was inevitable that some type of problem would arise from the school being located near the bar: “It’s not if it has to happen, it’s when.”
Knell said he thinks CY Discount Liquors “won’t look like a neighborhood bar. … It’s too classy; it is too beautiful. On the other hand, he said he understood Olson’s concerns and added, “I pray to God that what you say never happens.”
Henry Groenenberg spoke on behalf of John Johnson and the Johnson Restaurant Group and said they take parents’ concerns seriously.
He said he thinks some of the concerns are with the bar, including the name “The Backdoor Lounge”, noting that it is a name that comes from the old location and that the name should not be interpreted as implying that people can enter only through the rear door.
Groenenberg added that Johnson sees the new location as something akin to Vintage, the bar attached to Poplar Wine & Spirits. He said that the establishment will serve alcohol but that food will also be available. While the bar will open at 6 a.m., Groenenberg said the people who come in at that time are usually people coming out of a night shift and it’s no different for them to go to a bar at that time. is for someone to go to a bar after leaving work in the evening.
He also said the bar will provide a relaxed social environment: “It’s not intended to be a rowdy bar. “
Groenenberg said Johnson Restaurant Group expects the majority of accesses to be through CY Avenue rather than streets directly adjacent to the school. He also said Johnson was willing to work with people and try to be a good neighbor, adding that he believed other businesses operated by Johnson Restaurant Group had a good reputation in the community.
Relative Suzette Fresquez said she worried that people drink during the day and then roam the streets near the school while the children may be at recess. She said children could be exposed to foul language or other behaviors that parents do not want their children to be exposed to.
Board member Steve Cathey asked Fresquez if she was taking her kids to Walmart or downtown Casper. He said children could be exposed to homeless people or “drunks” in these areas and they could also hear name calling or acts of violence in these situations. He suggested he thought it unfair to expect the Johnson Restaurant Group to ensure that children were not exposed to such behavior if parents took their children to other areas where they were. would be exposed to such behavior.
Fresquez replied that she believes schools are meant to be places where parents can be confident in the safety of their children. She said that if any problems arose at the bar, “the safe place for our children is no longer a safe place and that is my concern”.
Vice Mayor Ray Pacheco asked City Manager Carter Napier what kind of communication the city had engaged to let people know that the bar and liquor store would be coming to the area.
Napier said the city has posted legal opinions and information on its own website regarding the transfer of the liquor license. Since no zoning change was necessary to allow the transfer of the liquor license, Napier said there were fewer notification requirements than if there had been a zoning change or establishment of gambling moved into the location.
He said the city received communications from the school in April requesting information about the transfer and that answers to those questions have been provided. Napier said he had also had phone conversations with people concerned about the situation.
Pacheco asked if the change to Casper’s orders would affect CY Discount Liquors’ ability to move to the new location. Napier said he didn’t think the council would have the “retroactive power” to force companies to relocate that already have licenses under the ordinances in effect.
Pacheco said he understands parents are concerned and believes the board should have a more in-depth conversation about what, if anything, can be done to help address those concerns.
“It’s not going to go away; this establishment is going to be there, ”he said.
Pacheco said he was not sure what could be done to alleviate the parents’ concerns, but said he believed the conversation between the parties involved rather than clashing was key.
Knell said he believes if any issues arose with the opening of the bar and the parents made a complaint, the city and council members would take those complaints seriously.
He told parents that he believed they should be realistic about the danger in the world, but not live in fear.
“You could walk through those doors tonight and someone could run over you,” Knell told them after pointing out that he had a doctorate in divinity.
Knell said he believes there are a lot of schools in Casper close to the bars and the council rarely hears complaints about problems resulting from these situations. He particularly highlighted the Natrona County High School and its proximity to downtown bars.