Mayor Greg Nickels's crackdown on nightlife has expanded to an area that can scarcely be considered to have a nightlife at all: the Alki neighborhood in West Seattle, home to a half-dozen establishments that stay open after 10:00 p.m. In recent weeks, two city departments have made efforts to expand the city's regulatory control over two Alki businesses: the Celtic Swell, an Irish pub and restaurant that periodically offers acoustic music, and, incredibly, Slices pizza, a small restaurant that stays open until 10:00 p.m.
The tactics the city is using to target the Alki businesses will be familiar to anyone who has followed the mayor's campaign against nightlife in the last few weeks. ["Corralling Clubland," July 6.] In the case of the Swell, the city's Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has demanded that the restaurant obtain a special permit to operate as a "drinking establishment" after 10:00 p.m. Additionally, the city attorney's office has pushed the Swell's owners, Joleen and Gareth Hughes, to sign a "good-neighbor agreement" assenting to certain city-dictated conditions if it wants to stay open. (Neither DPD nor the city attorney's office returned calls for comment.)
Slices' troubles with the city started earlier this year, when the pizza shop applied for a license to serve beer and wine. Some residents argued that the pizza joint would turn into a "beer garden" and contribute to public drunkenness, noise, litter, and underage drinking, according to the West Seattle Herald. (Because the restaurant is partly outdoors, some neighbors believe patrons would be able to pass beer to minors on the street. And no, we're not making that up.) In response, the city attorney's office has written a letter to the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) opposing Slices' liquor license unless Slices owners Patrick Henley and Tom Lin sign a good-neighbor agreement of their own. In the past 24 years, the liquor board has never granted a liquor license to which the city objected.
"It seemed pretty basic for a pizzeria to get a beer and wine license," Henley says. At the urging of the city, Henley says, he and Lin put up a fence between Slices and neighboring residences; residents, however, complained about that, putting Slices back to square one. "The last thing we want is to set the wheels in motion to force every business on Alki to sign a good-neighbor agreement," Henley says.
Joleen Hughes, who opened the Celtic Swell down the street from Slices with her husband two years ago, says she was "just completely and totally caught off guard" by the overwhelming show of regulatory force by the city. Although Hughes doesn't know for certain who complained to DPD (which only takes enforcement action in response to complaints), she says that shortly after the resident of an apartment directly above the Swell started complaining to her about noise, the city attorney's office began pressuring her to sign a good-neighbor agreement.
Soon afterward, DPD told the Hugheses they would need to get an additional permit to operate at night, with further conditions that would apply to the pub after 10:00 p.m. The irony, Hughes says, is that "we've never been issued a noise complaint; we've never had a liquor violation." Hughes says the real noise problem on Alki is caused by beachgoers who come into the neighborhood in the summer, not by neighborhood businesses. "We don't turn into a nightclub by any stretch of the imagination," Hughes says. "A guy with a guitar—that's as loud as it gets."
Community Council President Jackie Ramels, however, says the problem is that Alki has traditionally been "dead" at night. "I've heard the argument that if you live here, you should expect this. That argument doesn't really apply down here." People moving into Alki, unlike those moving into denser neighborhoods, "did not think they were moving into an entertainment area. The community council feels like their neighborhood is changing very quickly, and these weren't necessarily planned changes."
Regardless of the composition of Alki's six-block business district, Hughes and Henley both say they're concerned about the city's complaint-based enforcement, which frequently gives a single angry neighbor tremendous power. Ninety percent of the time, Hughes says, "I bet the resident hasn't even talked to the place. You don't even find out about it until you're dealing with lawyers."firstname.lastname@example.org