City rejects license for Chandler bar open during shutdown The Chandler Arizonan

City rejects license for Chandler bar open during shutdown

City rejects license for Chandler bar open during shutdown
City News

By Kevin Reagan
Arizonan Staff Writer

The Chandler City Council has taken the rare step of disapproving a liquor license application submitted by a local bar that was busted for hosting a party during the COVID-19 shutdown.

In a unanimous vote July 16, Council followed the advice of Chandler Police by recommending that the state not grant a liquor license to El Coyote Sports Bar.

It was an unusual course of action for a city that typically recommends almost every application it receives before forwarding them to the Arizona Department of Liquor Licenses for final review. Chandler last voted down a liquor license request in 2007.

The main source for the city’s dissent stemmed from a party allegedly held at El Coyote on March 21 – one day after Gov. Doug Ducey closed all bars in Arizona to stop the spread of the coronavirus.    

Up to 30 patrons were inside El Coyote on Arizona Avenue near Oakland Street that night and some reported paying $20 to gain entry, police said.

El Coyote co-owner Shawn Hoover has said the event was a private party scheduled before Ducey’s shutdown order and insisted he hadn’t been aware of it.

“It was an honest, clear misunderstanding,” Hoover told city officials in April, “and we’d definitely like a second chance.”

But Chandler Police Chief Sean Duggan thinks Hoover and his colleagues had behaved antagonistically toward officers who tried to break up the party.

He said officers could not gain entry into El Coyote because doors were locked and employees blocked the entrance. Once they got inside, he said, officers noticed several customers drinking alcohol and one was seen carrying a firearm – a violation of the state’s liquor laws.

The bar’s staff lied repeatedly to officers, Duggan said, and acted belligerently when confronted about the party.

“The position of the Police Department has not changed since the events on March 21,” the chief told Council. “Both owners were deceptive to police about conducting a business in violation of the governor’s executive order.”

A few days after the party, the state revoked a temporary liquor license issued to El Coyote in January and Duggan said it should not be reinstated.

Duggan first encouraged Council to disapprove of El Coyote’s application to renew its license back in April, but councilmen were torn about hurting a local business during the pandemic.

Council deferred action for several months until it became clear the city had few options; they either had to recommend approval, disapproval or make no recommendation at all.   

Council’s decision was made easier after it learned of some recent incidents involving El Coyote’s owners that involved other city code violations.

On June 7, a fire was reported at El Coyote and firefighters noticed some kitchen appliances and one of the bar’s walls had been moved. The Chandler Fire Department later found out the bar’s owners had not obtained a building permit before starting a renovation of El Coyote’s kitchen.

The bar’s owners had been advised in May they would need a permit before starting any planned renovations, according to the department.

Hoover told a different story.

He claimed the city’s Development Services Department told him he would not need any permits for minor renovations because they only involved removing a short wall unconnected to any plumbing or electricals.

The contrasting story wasn’t enough to sway council members, who all seemed to accept the word of city staff.

Councilman Matt Orlando said it appears El Coyote’s owners have displayed a pattern of behavior that’s troubling and warrants some intervention from the city.

“I think you really are trying to do the right thing but in some cases, you’re just not doing the right thing,” Orlando told the owners.

Councilman Mark Stewart said he had been reluctant to take any action against a local business during the pandemic but the issue was a quality-of-life matter and neighboring residents expect the city to protect their neighborhood.

According to Chandler Police, officers were dispatched to El Coyote at least nine times in the weeks leading up to the March 21 incident.

Stewart also noted that the city does not have final authority on the bar’s license.

El Coyote will take its application to the Arizona State Board of Liquor at the agency’s next meeting on Aug. 6.

Jeffery Trillo, a spokesman for the Department of Liquor Licenses, said he could not predict how much of an impact Chandler’s disapproval will have. Each application brought before the board has varying impact based on the facts and arguments presented, Trillo said, and decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

Over the last couple months, the Board of Liquor has received several complaints from cities and counties regarding local bars that have violated pandemic-related guidelines.

Pima County has reported at least 11 bars to the board for not complying with the governor’s executive orders. Tempe’s Varsity Tavern was under investigation for allegedly not informing the public it had staff members test positive for COVID-19.

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