HAMLET — City councilman Jesse McQueen spoke up about what he believes is a possibly problematic situation involving a local business at the end of Hamlet Avenue and demanded action be taken “sooner, rather than later.”
During the comments from the council segment of Tuesday’s city meeting, McQueen, who said he’d missed the last two meetings, shared complaints he has received from individuals and business owners about “suspicious activities” at The Ballroom — a “privately owned reception hall available for rent,” according to its website.
“I’ve got a major problem with some issues going on at the lower end of Hamlet Avenue down at the railroad tracks,” McQueen said. “The Ballroom’s being rented out for the purposes of weekend parties and what not, and it’s getting out of hand. There is litter left everywhere, people urinating out in the street. People carrying cups (alcoholic beverages) around in the streets.”
McQueen also said a number of violent altercations have occurred during the parties.
“It’s not fair that our officers have to go down there and put up with that,” he said.
Mayor Bill Bayless had concerns of another kind.
“There’s been some talk of the building being overloaded,” he said.
McQueen said it’s possible occupants are conducting illegal business from the building.
“If someone is going into that building and selling alcohol, then they are violating ABC law,” he said.
Records from the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Commission list Lisa Davis West as the business officer for The Ballroom and show the business renewed a permit for “Brown Bagging Private Club” and registered a permit for “Malt Beverage On Premise” in April of this year. A “Mixed Beverages Private Club” permit issued in 2003 is listed as cancelled in 2004.
City Manager Marcus Abernethy said the police have had to visit the establishment.
“I know our police have been proactive about going down there,” he said. “If our fire marshal was called, he would have responded. Staff members at city hall and our police department have recently been communicating with the owners of The Ballroom to address these complaints from our community.
“Although Mr. (Sam) and Mrs. West have been very receptive and worked well with communicating with us in the past,” Abernethy said in a Wednesday email, I have been unable to reach them when calling earlier Wednesday.”
The city manager asked the council whether the fire department had been involved to check for a violation of building capacity, and it was determined that has not occurred.
McQueen obtained photographs he said were taken last weekend at an unknown hour of the night, showing dense traffic on the short strip of downtown road and what appeared to be a long line of people waiting to enter The Ballroom,
“That’s a huge crowd, possibly violating the fire code,” McQueen said of the photograph. “It’s a building the man rents out, and apparently people are renting it out and using it as a night club. I want to make sure one person is not constantly renting it out every weekend and using it as a club.”
McQueen said nearby shop owners told him the decorations on their sidewalks, including planters containing flowers, have been used as makeshift urinals by intoxicated revelers walking the street outside The Ballroom.
“I’ve had residents and business owners from Hamlet talk to me about it,” he reiterated. “Reports of people urinating in the flower pots. Throwing litter and trash down. Walking with open containers out in the area. Something’s got to be done about that.”
Hamlet Police Chief Scott Waters said he was aware of an incident involving a gun outside The Ballroom on July 4, but did not believe his department has visited the venue many times in recent months.
During the city council meeting, McQueen requested immediate action but later said he realizes nothing can be done until another suspected violation is in progress.
“Last night I told the city manager I wanted the fire department to go check it out the next time something goes on over there,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “Are they charging admission, selling or giving away alcohol in there? We need to know, because that’s against the ABC law. There’s a lot of issues that go with that. We don’t need to be reactive — we need to be proactive to the problem.”
The Daily Journal attempted to call two phone numbers listed on The Ballroom page at www.samandlisa.com, but could not reach anyone and was unable to leave a message.
Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.