For the third time in three years, the typically routine annual approval of applications for renewal of alcohol licenses by the Freeman City Council became an extended discussion about Bake’s, the bar owned and operated by Ron Baker located at 231 S. Main.
The agenda for the city’s Monday, Nov. 20 meeting included the approval of eight licenses. All eight were granted, but only after city officials heard complaints about Bake’s from Glenn Roth, whose law office is located immediately north of the bar. Roth asked the city to intervene as part of granting a liquor license to Baker.
Roth said people are smoking on Main Street outside the bar, littering by dropping cigarette butts on the sidewalk and in the gutter in front of Bake’s and next to his office, and he complained about the loud music from the bar that he says he can hear in his office.
“I have to tolerate that sound coming through the walls,” he said. “It’s coming from that juke box, that bass.”
Roth voiced those same concerns when the liquor license was up for renewal a year ago.
Roth was also among neighboring businesses who, two years ago, opposed Baker’s request to transfer his liquor and malt beverage permits to the building that had been home to Ann’s Cafe. Baker had operated Bake’s in the former City Bar in a management/lease agreement with the city for the previous 10 years. But in October 2015, the council voted to transfer the management and lease agreement from Baker to Jay Hofer who opened the establishment as Hootz. Baker then asked to transfer his license to the new location. The council granted that request in 2015.
At that 2015 meeting, Roth told the council he feared the bar could become “disruptive to myself and my clients.” Monday night, Roth said that is what has happened, handing out photos that showed cigarette butts on the sidewalk and street outside the bar.
Roth asked the city to link the renewal of Baker’s liquor license with complying with a ban on smoking on Main Street. Another option, he said, would be to pass a city ordinance totally banning both smoking and loitering on Main Street.
“You guys have got the power to do either or both,” he said.
Roth said Baker should designate a smoking area for his patrons along Railway Street on the northwest side of the bar.
“That should alleviate some of the problems,” he said.
Roth said he felt the city had set conditions when it granted the license to Baker in 2015. That included no smoking or loitering outside the bar, daily cleanup outside the bar, having the building soundproofed and meet structural, safety and ADA requirements.
“He promised the city council and he promised all the citizens that were here that night that that’s what he was going to do,” Roth said.
Freeman Mayor Sam Sorensen said while the concerns were discussed, “there was nothing in his contract … that we could hold him to that.”
City officials showed no interest in instituting a ban on smoking or loitering anywhere on Main Street, citing the difficulty in enforcement. Councilor Terry Jacobsen said tying a ban on smoking to Baker’s license posed problems, as well.
“It would difficult to prove that people smoking in the area or leaving cigarette butts on the sidewalk and street were, in fact, Bake’s customers,” Jacobsen said. “In a realistic world, I just don’t see any way of stopping it. Whether we make an ordinance or not, it becomes a ‘he said, she said’ type of situation. We can’t hire someone to sit out there 24-7 to watch the bar.”
Jacobsen said he agreed that litter on the sidewalk and streets was unsightly.
“But,” he said, “I don’t think there’s anything we can do legally. I don’t know where we can go. All I can say is that it’s on the conscience of the owner.”
Ron Baker also attended the meeting and spoke to the council.
“We put up signs on the front door saying ‘no smoking outside,’” Baker said. “Can we legally enforce that? No.”
And, he noted, he has seen people other than his customers toss cigarette butts in the street in front of both businesses.
“I’ve seen people pull up in front of our place, throw a cigarette on the ground and go into his (Roth’s) place. I’ve seen people drive down Main Street and throw them out in our location. Are we responsible for those?
“We do take responsibility for it, even though they’re not all ours,” he continued. “We have picked up cigarettes. We try to clean up every day.”
As for complaints about sound, Baker said there is no noise ordinance in the state requiring soundproofing between neighboring businesses. He said he has told his employees and customers that the volume needs to be set at a lower level when Roth is in his office.
Roth said those guidelines are not being followed.
Baker offered to split the cost with Roth to soundproof their common wall.
City officials were particularly troubled by the fact that Roth acknowledged he has not talked directly to Baker about his concerns in the past year.
“I feel you should have gone and at least talked to him about it,” said Sorensen. “I really feel that being a good faith neighbor you two need to be talking. You got a problem, you go to him.”
Councilor Terry Jacobsen agreed.
“As two grown men, for the betterment of Freeman, you should be able to figure something out,” he said.
“I’m done fighting about cigarette butts,” said Councilor Charles Gering after 25 minutes of debate and discussion.
He moved to approve all eight licenses that included the license for Bake’s along with those for Blue’s Family Restaurant, Dollar General, Freeman Shopping Center, Hootz, Prairie House. All councilors present voted “yes;” Councilor Russ Becker was absent.
Watch for more from Monday’s city council meeting in next week’s issue of the Courier.