November 18, 2019
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Council to meet on Benjamin’s liquor license

BANGOR – City councilors agreed to schedule a special meeting later this week to consider a liquor license for the new owner of a Franklin Street tavern.

Councilors did not, however, act on a new three-year contract for the city’s unionized firefighters, as anticipated by union officials last week.

City Solicitor Norman Heitmann said council members would vote on ratifying the agreement, the product of 20 months of negotiations, during their next regular meeting on Aug. 25.

Firefighters ratified the contract offer Thursday night by a “slim margin,” Lt. David Bickford, president of Local 772 of the International Association of Firefighters, said last week.

Almost 90 members of the Bangor Fire Department belong to the union local. The union’s previous contract with the city expired June 30, 2002.

According to city officials, Dan O’Connell, who recently became owner of Benjamin’s, is seeking a state liquor license and hopes to obtain it in time for the National Folk Festival, Aug. 22-24 on the Bangor waterfront. He also reportedly is seeking permission to sell alcohol on the festival grounds during the three-day event, which organizers say could draw as many as 100,000 people.

The bar owner’s application hit a snag when Fire Chief Jeff Cammack disclosed that he was unable to find documentation – at either the city or the state level – that Benjamin’s had developed a plan for addressing the 14 life-safety code violations found during inspections in April. Because part of the tavern is located below street level, exits are a particular concern of fire inspectors.

O’Connell, however, said that all but two of the deficiencies had been addressed. The two violations that remained as of Monday involved an exit sign that fire inspectors wanted to be lighted and a door that needed to be widened. He said that the sign issue could be remedied by Wednesday and that his landlord had placed an order for a new door.

Also of concern to city officials was that O’Connell operated Benjamin’s without a state liquor license for a period of about a month after he acquired the business from former owner Timothy Schuck. Though Schuck had a liquor license for Benjamin’s, the license did not extend to the new owner, who by state law was required to obtain a new license.

O’Connell attributed the problems, in large part, to communication problems.

Though the state issues liquor licenses, municipal officials are responsible for conducting the required public hearings and making recommendations to state decision-makers.

Rather than close the public hearing, which would have required the scheduling and advertising of a new hearing, councilors agreed to continue the public hearing at 5 p.m. Wednesday, when the council’s government operations committee is slated to meet.

During Monday night’s meeting, Cammack initially recommended that matter be postponed until the council’s next regular meeting. That meeting, however, won’t be held until Aug. 25, the day after the Folk Festival ends.

The inspection at Benjamin’s was among many conducted after a fatal fire in February at a Rhode Island nightclub where 100 patrons lost their lives after a pyrotechnics display ignited a fire during the opening song of a band called Great White.

The band had performed at Russell’s, another Bangor establishment, two days before.

Nightclubs, restaurants and other places of public assembly are subject to the provisions of the National Fire Protection Association’s life safety codes, which in Maine have been incorporated into state law.

The NFPA safety codes require an adequate number of exits and exit signs, an operating fire alarm system and emergency lighting. In some instances, sprinkler systems also are required.


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