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West Hartford Will Seek Injunction against Restaurant for Repeated Violations

Los Imperios (Facebook photo)

Los Imperios Restaurant has already been issued 29 citations, but repeated fails to comply with zoning laws and liquor regulations, Town of West Hartford officials said.

Los Imperios (Facebook photo)

Los Imperios (Facebook photo)

By Ronni Newton

The Town of West Hartford is seeking injunctive relief against Los Imperios Restaurant and Lounge for the establishment’s repeated non-compliance with local zoning laws and regulations.

According to Town officials, a hearing will take place at Connecticut Superior Court in Hartford on Tuesday, Aug. 16, in response to a filing made for an injunction against Los Imperios on May 24, 2016.

Los Imperios has failed to comply with zoning laws and liquor regulations, the Town alleges, and there have been continued reports of disturbances emanating from the 904 Farmington Ave. business, as well as repeated instances of DUI arrests of patrons leaving the establishment.

West Hartford Director of Community Services Mark McGovern said that Town administration has been in communication for more than a year with Los Imperios’ manager, Ernesto Leon, and the landlord, O.C. Shah, to gain compliance and have the business operate as a restaurant rather than as a nightclub.

“All in all we are repeatedly frustrated with how this business has continued to operate and are taking the next steps to improve the situation for people in the neighborhood,” McGovern said.

According to the Town the ordinance that has been repeatedly violated is 177-2, which defines the term “restaurant” and specifically states that restaurants are prohibited from “sale of alcohol or spirits by the bottle to a patron or patrons”; and “shall have no regular and recurring unusual barriers to entry such as cover charges or age restrictions.”

Los Imperios has continued to operate in violation of this ordinance, and the Town alleges that such violations and continued non-compliance have contributed to the numerous complaints filed by neighbors.

Injunctive relief is considered a last resort, but after the issuance of 29 citations, the Town believes it’s a necessary measure. The fines associated with those citations currently total $4,350.

“With the injunction, we are asking the court to allow us to raise the fine from $150 to $2,500 with hopes that the heftier fine will spur compliance,” McGovern said.

“They’ve been treating this as the cost of doing business, and it’s not having the desired effect,” Deputy Corporation Counsel Kimberly Boneham said. According to Boneham, some of the citations have been paid but money is still owed.

Los Imperios opened in Sept. 2014 in the space adjacent to the West Hartford Inn formerly occupied by Shish – an establishment which also was repeatedly cited for zoning and other ordinance violations and disturbances.

West Hartford Police Chief Tracey Gove said that problems with Los Imperios began shortly after a temporary liquor license was issued to the establishment in Nov. 2014.

“The West Hartford Police Department began receiving complaints from the neighborhood immediately. The first disturbance came on December 6, 2014 about excessive noise coming from the club,” Gove said in a statement.

According to Asst. Chief Robert McCue, during the past two months more than 20 complaints of disturbances related to Los Imperios have been received.

Police said they have made eight DUI arrests of drivers who have admitted they were coming from Los Imperios, and have also charged seven people following fights and disturbances. There have also been tickets for minor infractions.

Police said that repeated referrals have been made to the state Liquor Commission. Violations have included “serving an underage patron, drinking at the establishment after hours, conducting drink promotions and having age restrictions.”

“The police department’s Special Investigations Division has had numerous conversations with Mr. Leon about the violations, the neighborhood complaints, and our concerns, but those have repeatedly fallen on deaf ears as the issues remain unabated,” said Chief Gove in a statement.

A heavy police presence at Los Imperios has been required on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights in order to monitor the crowds and avoid disturbances.

“There [have] been two times in the last month where every available police cruiser was sent into the area to keep the crowds orderly. This led to no police coverage in town for about 20 to 30 minutes,” said Gove.

McGovern said the Town has been taking necessary steps to remedy the situation, and wants residents to know that their complaints are being heard.

“We’re frustrated and disappointed that Mr. Leon has continued to operate his business outside of compliance with our ordinances, and we’re equally disappointed that Mr. Shah, the owner, allows it to happen,” McGovern said.

Boneham will speak at the hearing on Aug. 16, and present the evidence that has been collected.

She said that seeking an injunction is not a common practice, and the only other time something like this has happened during her 11-year tenure with the Town of West Hartford concerned Shish, the previous occupant of the same space.

If the injunction fails to stop the violation, “We will go back to court,” Boneham said.

Gove said that residents should call police immediately at 860-523-5203 if they note any problems at Los Imperios. Quick action can prevent the problem from escalation, and can also help police document the issue as coming from Los Imperios.

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