Saturday, March 25, 2023

How badly does Wrightsville Beach want Red Dogs closed? Enough to take on the Attorney General

Red Dogs bar in Wrightsville Beach. (Port City Daily photo / Michael Praats)
Red Dogs bar (located upstairs) in Wrightsville Beach. (Port City Daily photo / Michael Praats)

WILMINGTON — The ongoing rift between the Town of Wrightsville Beach on Red Dogs has turned into a legal battle as the town continues to do what it can to stop the small business from operating. The town is going so far as to take the state ABC to court — going head to head with the state Attorney General Josh Stein.

What started in February has turned into a months-long skirmish between the town’s lawyer and the state Attorney General’s office.

When A.B. Family Ventures (better known as the company currently operating Red Dogs) applied for an ABC permit in February the town vehemently opposed its issuance. Despite the objections from the town as well as the Wrightsville Beach Police Department (WBPD), a permit was eventually granted to Red Dogs in April, albeit a temporary permit.

In June the town filed a ‘Petition for a Contested Case Hearing’ challenging the issuance of the permit in court to which the respondent (N.C. ABC) filed a motion to dismiss based on the fact that the permit was only a temporary one and the fact that the Office of Administrative Hearings lacked subject matter jurisdiction. A month later, Judge William Culpepper III ruled in favor of the state and granted the dismissal for the request of a contested case hearing.

But the town has been unwilling to give up their fight.

In August, the town filed a petition for judicial review, claiming Culpepper’s decision was made in error.

According to state law, “Any party or person aggrieved by the final decision in a contested case, and who has exhausted all administrative remedies made available to the party or person aggrieved by statute or agency rule, is entitled to judicial review of the decision under this Article, unless adequate procedure for judicial review is provided by another statute, in which case the review shall be under such other statute.”

Appealing the permit

According to the pending legal case, the town, as well as the police department, cited several reasons for appealing the ABC permit’s issuance.

“In the local government opinion form, WBPD Chief Dan House objected to the issuance of any ABC permits at Red Dogs and letters from both Chief House and Petitioner [the town] were attached further detailing those objections. Respondent’s Prehearing Ex. B1 Zoning ordinance violations, a history of criminal activity at Red Dogs, and a possible connection between the previous owner, Charlie Maultsby (since deceased) and Mr. and Mrs. Brother were cited as reasons to deny the permit,” according to court documents.

Andrew Brothers, the new owner of Red Dogs, took over the operations from Maultsby in October of 2018.

Maultsby had lost his ABC permit due to a felony gun conviction in 2016, and despite listing Brothers’ ‘possible connection between the previous owner’ as a reason to deny the permit in legal proceedings, Chief House previously claimed the opposition to the permit had nothing to do with Maultsby.

“At this point, it has absolutely nothing to do with Charlie Maultsby. It only has to do with the business itself, and Red Dogs has a poor reputation in the community. And I think anybody who tries to get a permit there is going to have some trouble,” House said. “Look at the criminal charges that have come out of there, the criminal activity, the fighting, those types of things,” House said earlier this year.

As far as the outcome of the court case, the Town of Wrightsville Beach is hoping a hearing will be held to review Judge Culpepper’s motion to dismiss the petition, the town is also hoping to regain the costs spent on legal fees from the state, as well as any other ‘relief’ the court decides upon.

The temporary permit

The town’s complaints against Red Dogs did not go completely unnoticed; in fact, that is why Brothers was issued a temporary permit instead of a full liquor license.

The ABC conducted a ‘pre-permit investigation’ into the complaints and ‘found no reasonable basis to reject the permit application.’ But, in consideration of the police department’s objections, Brothers was only granted a temporary permit for beer and wine — no liquor would be served under that permit.

After a probationary period of 60 days, Brothers would be permitted to apply for a mixing beverages private club permit, provided there were no issues at the bar during the probationary period.

“Further, Mr. and Mrs. Brothers both signed an affidavit acknowledging additional requirements of the permit, including increased security, installation of video surveillance, and daily maintenance of trash and litter outside the business,” according to the pending legal case.

Because criminal activity was listed as one of the concerns with issuing a permit, the temporary permit stated all it would take for revocation was a single violation from a law enforcement agency at the bar.

The town does not show any intention of letting up on its fight against Red Dogs so a decision from a judge, either to accept the hearing for judicial review or reject it, will be paramount in moving forward.

Related: Wrightsville Beach Board of Adjustment denies Red Dogs appeal

It’s worth noting that this is just one part of the town’s attempt to effectively shutter Red Dogs. Most recently, the town’s Board of Adjustment denied Brothers’ appeal against the town’s zoning ordinance that led to the business racking up more than $1,000 in fines.

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