October 2, 2014

Elyria
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Gas USA takes its case to Columbus

ELYRIA – A local gas station that continues to battle for a liquor permit despite being repeatedly denied will take its fight to Columbus in the coming weeks.

Arguing its case in front of the Ohio Liquor Control Commission, Liberty Gas USA once again will try for a permit from the state allowing for the sale of beer and wine at the Middle Avenue establishment. If granted, the gas station would be allowed to sell alcoholic beverages every day, including Sunday, from 1 p.m. until midnight.

Liberty Gas USA on the city`s south side in the 5th Ward, is a stone`s throw from Elyria High School.

This latest hearing comes months after the Division of Liquor Control denied a permit request from the business. In the denial letter dated Dec. 22, state Liquor Control Superintendent Terry Poole said the business interfered with the decency and peace of the neighborhood.

However, by Jan. 13, the business moved to appeal the decision.

The case will be heard at 11:30 a.m. June 4 in a trial-like setting in which Charles Nemer, a Cleveland-attorney representing Liberty Gas USA, will defend the gas station. A lawyer from the state attorney general`s office will represent Ohio Liquor Control, said Ted Hart, spokesman for the attorney general`s office. Witnesses and evidence can be presented by both sides.

Assistant City Law Director Michael Szekely said he is unsure whether he will attend the hearing on behalf of the city. He was present for the October public hearing at City Hall that preceded the December denial.

Hart said it will be several weeks before the commission makes its decision.

Liberty Gas USA has been without a liquor permit since November 2006, when state officials – in a letter rejecting a renewal request from a previous owner – said they did so because the store “saw more police activity than any other permit business in Elyria.”

Since that time, the business has traded hands many times, and the gas station`s current owner, John Harb, has repeatedly argued that he is working to repair the tarnished reputation of the business.

The problem-plagued past includes dozens of calls for police service in 2007 and 2008 at Liberty Gas, as well as the horrific June 2008 shooting of a store clerk, who was robbed at gunpoint and killed.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.