Greenbelt City Council protests restaurant’s liquor license

Published by The Prince George’s Sentinel on Wednesday, March 03, 2010

By Judah Ari Gross

Last week, Greenbelt City Councilmembers unanimously protested the liquor license renewal of a local T.G.I. Friday’s in light of a stabbing that took place in the restaurant’s parking lot, according to city officials.

Lee Relph attacked two people with a knife in the parking lot of the restaurant on Capitol drive before being arrested by an off-duty police officer. The incident took place Wednesday, Feb. 17.

The restaurant has been at the center of several crimes throughout the years, most minor, but some more notable, including a shooting in the parking lot in April 2007.

Last year, after a fight between several customers at the T.G.I. Friday’s and the police, the manager, John Faison, appeared before the city council and assured them that the bartenders would be more vigilant about the amount of alcohol they give to customers.

However, Councilman Edward Putens did not notice a change in the poor behavior of the customers when he inspected the restaurant.

“I made a promise that I was going to go by there and check things out. And I did,” Putens said. “And the first time I did, there were fights breaking out right in front of me.

“This time, however, the violence has gone too far, according to several city council members.

“The stabbing that just occurred and all of the other incidents that have gone on,” Councilman Rodney Roberts said. “You know we had a meeting [with T.G.I. Friday’s] almost a year ago now and they swore up and down, promised that they would take care of it, and here we are having people getting stabbed.

“Several council members also voiced concern over the fact that a once “family style” restaurant is no longer safe. “As long as you go at lunch time, I think you are OK, ” Councilwoman Silke Pope said. “But once it gets dark it turns into something, something different. It is not a family -oriented restaurant anymore.”

She added, “Something is not right.”

Roberts noted, “I think it’s only a matter of time before someone dies over there, if we don’t do anything about it.”

To combat the crime coming out of the area, Greenbelt Police Spokeswoman Kelly Lawson explained, “We have an officer working there seven days a week.”

The city council cannot actually prevent the bar and grille from renewing their liquor license, which expires May 31, 2010, as that decision is made by the Prince George’s County Liquor Control Board. “Just because we oppose them having a liquor license does not mean they are going to lose their liquor license,” Roberts explained.

Instead, the council can raise a protest by March 1, which it did — unanimously.

Though the council unanimously voted to protest the renewal, Mayor Judith Davis did so unwillingly and it was only after realizing that the deadline to file a protest was March 1.

“With that stipulation, that we have a March 1 deadline, then I will be willing to go along with this, as long as we are giving the owners a chance, if they choose, to meet with us,” Davis said.

The manager of the T.G.I. Friday’s said this was his first time his liquor license renewal has been protested in his six years working at the restaurant. He said he was shocked to hear that council had voted as it had. “I didn’t know there was a problem,” Faison said.

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