Commonwealth Court sides with Harrisburg bar in dispute with city, will remain open

HARRISBURG, Pa. - A Midtown Harrisburg bar will be allowed to remain open after the city's latest appeal of the bar's business license was denied Wednesday.

The city had attempted to revoke the business license for the Third Street Cafe on Third and Calder streets in 2015, but Commonwealth Court sided with a Dauphin County judge's ruling that the city could not use business licensure revocation procedures on a business regulated by the state's Liquor Control Board.

The business has been in limbo ever since the revocation attempt, "just being worried from an operational standpoint whether or not your business is going to be closed for a period of two-and-a-half years, basically," said Christopher Wilson, the attorney who represented the Third Street Cafe.

City leaders said Wednesday they have not come to any decisions on how to react to the ruling, up to and including a petition to appeal the case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

"I would be concerned that maybe the judge's ruling today has jeopardized the city's ability to utilize its regulatory ability to improve a business for the benefit of the community," said Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse.

There is a procedure for municipalities to petition the Liquor Control Board directly to shutter businesses they deem to be nuisance bars, but that procedure was not used in this case.

"The city has actually done that on many occasions in the past, where bars have been closed within a couple of months when you had a case," Wilson said. "Our contention is that they did not have a case."

"We will say from the beginning, it's never been about one particular establishment," Papenfuse said. "It's about tools that municipalities need to help improve the quality of life for residents."

City officials in the past tried to go after the cafe because of drugs and violent crime near the bar in an attempt to portray the business as a nuisance, which the cafe has repeatedly denied. But city leaders acknowledge there has been change.

"I think to be fair to them, they have made significant improvements since the city originally revoked the business license," Papenfuse said. "I think that's a positive thing."

Wilson said the business would like to make facade improvements, but has been unable to because of the uncertainty of how the dispute will play out. They hope the ruling will finally put the issue at an end, and say they want to work with the city toward a better future.

"You would hope that maybe we can find some sort of common ground and move forward," Wilson said.

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