Plans to revive an old Allentown social club may be damned by the bad reputation of the place that club plans to call its new home.
What might have been a routine liquor license transfer stirred opposition from both residents and some city officials in a lengthy hearing before Allentown City Council Wednesday night.
If approved by council, the liquor license would be transferred to 1139 Union Blvd., formerly Tony's Pizza, in east Allentown.
Plans are for that property to become the new private club for the American Citizens Slavonic Society of Allentown, Inc.
The license is being transferred from Lower Milford Township Fire Company No. 1.
Council intended to make a decision on the inter-municipal liquor license transfer during its 7 p.m. meeting, which followed the 6 p.m. hearing.
But that didn't happen.
Instead, action on the license transfer was tabled at the request of Atty. Matthew Croslis, who represented the Slavonic Society.
"I didn't realize it would be this controversial," said Croslis, who is the former Lehigh County executive.
Croslis made the request to table after the former operation of Tony's Pizza restaurant and bar was criticized by an Allentown police captain, the director of the city's health bureau and several residents.
They indicated many more people living near that place have complaints about the past operation -- including noise, litter, broken bottles, drugs and even bar customers urinating in public - but one man said those neighbors were afraid to show up at the liquor license hearing.
"I will try to bring it back with all the concerns addressed," promised Croslis.
But he noted if the neighbors are going to be calling the police on what will be a law-abiding club, "maybe we should look for another place. But we have a lot of time invested in this."
Council's role was to determine if the license transfer "will adversely affect the health, safety, general welfare of morals of the public."
At the center of the controversy was 62-year-old Tony El-Chaar, who owns the property and will lease it to the club.
In addition to El-Chaar being the club's landlord, it planned to hire him as its cook. Croslis said the club will serve its members inexpensive meals as well as alcohol.
Vicky Kistler, the health bureau director, asked City Council for more time so she can present it with a list of health, fire and other city violations that were El-Chaar's responsibility.
"I know we have fire and health violations," said Kistler. "Some of them have been addressed but I'm not convinced that all of them have been addressed." She also said those violations have been chronic.
Based on Kistler's comments, council voted 7-0 that approval of the liquor license transfer would be contingent on conformity with zoning, health and other applicable city codes.
Croslis assured council the social club is going to fix anything that's wrong with the property. He said the club will comply with all city ordinances and regulations, including those involving serving food. "That's why they hired me," he said.
Kistler said city administrators had been led to believe El-Chaar would not be involved with the social club except as its landlord.
Croslis said El-Chaar is more interested getting the lease with the club than working as a cook for the club's members.
Croslis apologizes to council
Council member Daryl Hendricks told Croslis he also feels like he was deceived, because he thought there was a clear delineation between El-Chaar and the prospective new tenants.
Council member Joe Davis, who lives in east Allentown, supports the social club's plans.