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City Council delays ruling in Retreat bar's liquor fight with University of Tampa

TAMPA — At the request of attorneys representing the University of Tampa and owners of a nearby bar, the City Council delayed ruling Thursday on whether the Retreat can add liquor to its offerings.

Neither attorney would comment on the reason for the delay.

Mark Bentley, a lawyer representing the bar owner, said UT asked for a delay and he agreed.

Meanwhile, Bentley has filed a lawsuit saying the question shouldn't go to the council at all.

University officials want the bar to be prohibited from selling hard alcohol, saying it would make student drinking problems worse.

Bentley has relied on an obscure city ordinance and an old photograph to argue that the Retreat has a legal right to sell liquor.

Enacted in 1945 when the city adopted wet-zoning, the rule says any continuously operating business that had a state license to sell alcohol at that time could keep selling the types of drinks permitted by the license.

Under a variety of owners and names, the location has operated as a bar for decades, largely selling just beer and wine.

Bentley says he doesn't have the original Florida liquor license because the old records have been purged. But he does have a Burgert Brothers photo taken on Jan. 29, 1946, that shows liquor bottles, and the sworn testimony from customers, now in their 80s, who remember drinking cocktails in the bar.

That was enough for a city zoning administrator, who approved liquor sales in March 2008.

UT appealed to the city's Variance Review Board, which in December upheld the administrator's decision. The university is now appealing that ruling to the City Council.

Although Variance Review Board appeals typically go to the council, Bentley's lawsuit argues the case should not have gone to it, because according to city code it doesn't have jurisdiction over wet zonings.

The issue is set to go back to the City Council on April 16.

City Council delays ruling in Retreat bar's liquor fight with University of Tampa 03/05/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 5, 2009 11:27pm]
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