Johnson City botches codes case against Acoustic Coffeehouse

JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL) – A costly mistake by the City of Johnson City is temporarily jeopardizing efforts to shut down what some consider a late night nuisance near the Tree Streets neighborhood.

Johnson City spent months building a case against Acoustic Coffeehouse only to watch a judge dismiss it earlier this month. The attorney representing the city said code enforcers mistakenly cited Acoustic Coffeehouse under the wrong zoning ordinance.

“We botched it up,” Erick Herrin said. “We might as well get ahold and get the bull by the horns.”

Code enforcers issued a series of citations in recent months, arguing city ordinance prohibits Acoustic Coffeehouse’s customers from hanging out on the business’ back patio after 11 pm.

“It is difficult to enforce someone who’s intent on being inconsiderate,” Herrin said. “That’s what we’re talking about, being inconsiderate to one’s neighbors.”

The city took the West Walnut Street business to court, but a judge dismissed the citations before either side could make their case, because of the error.

“We just dropped a marble,” he said. “I’m licking my wounds.”

Herrin isn’t the only one disappointed.

“All the citations got dismissed, but there wasn’t really a resolution,” owner Jim Benelisha said.

Benelisha cites a state law, arguing the ordinance in question doesn’t apply to his business.

“I don’t feel that I’m doing anything wrong,” he said. “I feel that’s the right I had from the day I opened the business and nothing has changed that.”

Police records show roughly a dozen loud party, loud music 911 calls so far this year and more than 60 since 2015.

Elizabeth Churchwell lives behind the coffeehouse. She said she would like some kind of relief.

“Once the music stops, then the people who’ve been drinking and hanging around carry on and keep on going,” she said. “They’re still partying…I wouldn’t want to see him shut down or hurt his business, but still, this is residential area that we’re backed up on.”

Benelisha said he is a respectful neighbor.

“I don’t feel that we’re a disruptive influence,” he said. “I feel that we are a very good neighbor.”

Despite thousands of dollars in legal fees already and a significant amount of time spent responding to complaints with no resolution, Herrin said the city isn’t giving up. He said it’s only a matter of time before code enforcers are back issuing new citations and back in court.

“We let them down,” Herrin said of the neighbors. “We’re sorry we botched this up. We are not abandoning the effort…At the time and place of our choosing, we will go over there and deal with it. We’ll be back.”

Benelisha said while the matter is pending, he’s made an effort to bring in his customers after 11 pm.

Copyright WJHL 2017. All rights reserved.

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