OGUNQUIT, Maine — The Board of Selectmen voted to deny a liquor license to the new La Playa de Ogunquit Mexican Restaurant at its Jan. 7 meeting, though they may revisit the issue following a clerical error.
La Playa’s public hearing began with Chairman Barbara Dailey noting that the applicant — Josh Arellano — was present, the application was complete, the fee had been paid and the inspections by the fire chief and code enforcement officer had been completed. She then inquired if there were any comments or questions from the public in regard to the application. Hearing none, she turned to the board with the same question.
Selectman David Barton pointed out that the application showed the proportion of shared ownership had changed from what had been previously stated in public. Barton ended his comments by saying, “I hope that this is not an indication of future behavior of this corporation.”
Dailey asked Arellano if he wanted to respond to Mr. Barton’s comments and he replied “no.”
Some residents spoke out against the new restaurant in recent months because of its ties to the Pennsylvania-based El Rodeo chain, founded by the Arellano family. Opponents of the eatery argued it would violate the town’s ordinance prohibiting so-called formula restaurants, and owners of La Playa were ultimately prohibited from using anything — such as design, menus and even purchasing — that could tie the Ogunquit location to the El Rodeo chain.
Selectman John Daley motioned to approve the liquor license application for La Playa. Dailey seconded the motion, opening the motion to discussion. She reminded the board that the town had already issued a business permit for the restaurant and that the board was limited in its action to deny a liquor license, noting, “it would be nice to hear some of the thinking here before we take a vote.”
Daley asked, “Don’t we have to have a just cause to refuse a licence? I would like to know what the just cause is.”
Selectman Chris Jarochym then directed a question to the applicant.
“Have you received a Certificate of Occupancy yet?”
The applicant replied, “I’m not sure what that is.”
Town Manager Tom Fortier pointed out that the Certificate of Occupancy was an issue for the landlord and not for a business renting the premises, noting that the applicant has in place all he needs.
Jarochym went on to explain his question, saying “if a company, and this goes for any business in Ogunquit that’s not open yet, I’m not sure that we even should be approving liquor licenses [for them] and whether they have any other faults or if they have all their approvals in place.”
Dailey pointed out that this particular building was not new and that other similar businesses had rented that same space and “this is the first time anyone here has ever raised the question about a Certificate of Occupancy.”
After hearing no further discussion, she called for a vote. The motion to approve the liquor licence failed by a vote of 2-0-3 with Dailey and Daley voting in favor, and Selectmen David Barton, Bob Winn and Jarochym voting “present” only.
Fortier predicted that the application would go to the state, where it would likely be approved. He said the state will likely inquire why the board didn’t vote to approve the license, adding that a local board cannot deny a state liquor license.
“Why are we so irrelevant?” Barton asked. “I just voted ‘present,’ it doesn’t matter!”
“I think if we had a reason to not vote for it, that might be different,” Dailey said.
After further discussion and noting that town officials had also dated their signatures with the incorrect year — 2013 — Dailey handed the application back to Fortier, saying, “Let’s get this document cleaned up and we’ll revisit it again in two weeks.”