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Council: No to Dancing at Acapulco Spirit

Concerns about noise, crime, and potential code violations doom effort to obtain dance hall license for long-time West Hyattsville restaurant with few actual noise and crime issues and no recent code violations.

You won't be getting footloose at Acapulco Spirit anytime soon.

Bowing to concerns from neighborhood residents, the Hyattsville City Council defeated a motion which would have given the council's endorsement to the West Hyattsville restaurant's application before county officials for a license to allow dancing on the premises.

"I don't think they are in tune with what is going on in the area as much as they say they are," said restaurant owner David Santizo after the meeting, expressing frustration at the outcome. "We are trying to do it correctly by getting permits, and we're getting denied for it, while there's stuff in the neighborhood that's already going on without permits."

No member of city council voted against the motion to deny support to Acapulco Spirit's dance hall license application, however Mayor Marc Tartaro did not vote on the measure because he had stepped out of the chamber to get a drink of water. Councilor Carlos Lizanne (Ward 4) was absent from the meeting. 

The vote to deny support for the application shocked Tartaro when he learned of it after returning to the chamber. 

"I was hoping there'd be more discussion," said Tartaro after the meeting. "My construct was simply that they have been a reasonable business in the city. If there's been a problem, they've been responsive and I wanted to give them the opportunity."

The owners of Acapulco Spirit, which has operated at 3100 Hamilton Street for 18 years, were seeking to install a 5 foot by 10 foot dancing area within the establishment. Per the conditions of the dance hall application process, if the city council does not support the application, then the license must be denied by the county. Now, city officials have until March 1 to deliver the council's opinion to be recorded by the county. 

Spirited Opposition

Opinions expressed during the public hearing were mostly opposed to the granting of a dance hall license to the establishment. 

Residents cited concerns about excessive noise, proximity to residential areas, the potential for drunken antics outside the establishment, and the number of businesses which serve alcohol on the nearby stretch of Hamilton Street during a public hearing held before last night's council meeting. 

"I just have an issue that there are so many drinking establishments in one area," said 36th Street resident Shirley Fischer during the public hearing. "With drinking comes lowered inhibitions, and with lowered inhibitions there comes crime."

And while many residents expressed concerns about noise, few–if any–of those concerns were directed specifically at the past musical activities of Acapuclo Spirit. Instead, neighborhood residents and city council members dregded up the memories of other area establishments with a history of sonic pollution.

The application would not have changed the maximum capacity for the restaurant, set by the county fire marshall. The establishment already has an alcohol and liquor license, and already hosts karaoke nights and live music. When you consider that it also stays open past midnight, the restaurant lays claim to being one of the few true bars in the city of Hyattsville.

The owners hoped that by securing a dance hall license, they would be in the government's good graces if their patrons ever acted on the urge to move their body in a rythmic fashion to the beat of musical accompaniment. As it stands now, any spontaneous dancing committed by an unwitting patron technically puts the restaurant in violation of the county's dance hall laws, which were instituted to crack down on dance clubs with a history of violence.

"The customers want it, most importantly. If they are coming in asking to dance, you have to provide it to them," said Santizo. "We haven't had any violations at all [to give reason] to deny us."

Clean Record for Restaurant

During the meeting, city officials with Hyattsville's economic development and code compliance offices said that the owners of Acapulco Spirit have operated their business largely without incident. 

According to data provided by Hyattsville Police Chief Doug Holland, there have been 14 calls for service at the restaurant since last January. Six of those calls were for accidental or false security alarm alerts.  

According to Jim Chandler, director of Hyattsville's Department of Community and Economic Development, the business has had no code violations over the last year, and passed its annual inspection. 

During the meeting, Code Compliance director Chris Giunta said that the restaurant has a history of passing its annual inspection without any trouble.

Despite this, members of the public, as well as some members of city council, harbored concerns that granting a dance license to the establishment was a risky proposition.

"I'm not confident they will follow all the rules and regulations," said Councilor Paula Perry (Ward 4) during the meeting.

But Perry, while voting against dancing at the restaurant, said she wanted the establishment to succeed. 

"I hope the restaurant prospers," said Perry after the meeting. "It's a great restaurant, it has great food, but I don't think it's a place for dancing."

ana moran February 21, 2013 at 01:23 PM
I did not know about the hearing until I looked at the city website. How do they get the word out to people?
s February 21, 2013 at 02:54 PM
Ana, get on the city listserve they email out the meeting agenda before every meeting.
s February 21, 2013 at 07:07 PM
I'm not a customer so I did not attend the meeting.
Edna Parker February 22, 2013 at 02:53 AM
I only learned about the hearing when I saw the article on Patch. Will join the listserve. Thanks Scot
Mark February 22, 2013 at 08:09 PM
You don't think racism played a part in this? Think again!

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