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Dispute over S. Anchorage VFW club goes to Assembly

Neighbors of a Veterans of Foreign Wars club in a strip mall on the Old Seward Highway want to close it down, and they're hoping to enlist the support of the Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday.

Neighbors have been complaining for nearly two years that the club was too noisy to be next to a residential area, that trash from the club blows into their neighborhood, and there's sometimes vomit.

VFW Post No. 9981, in a mall south of Huffman Road, is allowed to serve alcohol to members and their guests, but is not open to the public.

As recently as March, the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board says the VFW violated its license by serving alcohol to a non-member -- an undercover investigator from the board.

In July of 2012, the board sent the VFW a notice of violation for putting notes on the club's Facebook page indicating that the public was welcome to some club events.

"We've made a few mistakes," says Steve Hubbard, commander of VFW Post No. 9981. But, Hubbard said, all the concerns raised have already been responded to.

"Trash has not been an issue for two years," Hubbard said. "The fact is all of those issues are resolved."


Apart from the liquor license violations, at least some of the club's problems stem from its location.

The mall is on land zoned industrial. But right behind the mall and down a small slope there's a subdivision.

Don and Katie Kessler live in a house behind the mall where the second floor overlooks the back entrance of the VFW.

They've been leading the effort to get rid of the club.

"Right now, because of all the liquor license violations, we would really like to see the place shut down," Don Kessler said.

Kessler said he didn't want to go into detail because the matter is coming up before the Assembly.


On Tuesday, the Assembly considers whether to protest renewal of the VFW's license.

The Assembly has two separate issues on its agenda:

• A protest. If this proposal passes, the city would protest the club's liquor license renewal with the state ABC Board, which makes licensing decisions. A public hearing is scheduled Tuesday night at which representatives of the VFW, the residents and the Old Seward Highway-Oceanview Community Council are allowed to testify.

• A deal. The city attorney's office and lawyers for the VFW on Friday signed a potential agreement that the Assembly could accept instead of moving ahead with the protest. A resolution to accomplish that is on the agenda.

Under the deal, the city says it won't protest the club's liquor license renewal as long as the VFW agrees to certain conditions, such as not playing karaoke or live music after 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, or midnight on the weekends; and collecting loose trash along the fence-line once a week.

The strip mall, on the west side of the Old Seward Highway, has been there for 30-some years, its owner told the Daily News in 2011.

The VFW moved to rented space in the mall in January of 2011. The group sold its old building, also on the Old Seward Highway, to get out of debt, Hubbard said in 2011.


Assembly member Jennifer Johnston, who is sponsoring the move to protest the license, said she's trying to fix the problems, not necessarily close the club.

She'd like to see it modify operating hours to accommodate the neighbors, keep the area neat and clean, and "not have karaoke at 2 in the morning."

She's taking into consideration the fact that the strip mall is on land zoned for industrial uses, she said.

"On the one hand you have a couple of houses built there with full knowledge the adjoining land was industrial," she said. "There could have been a gravel pit."

The city doesn't have direct control over the VFW's liquor license. The state does. But the city does have the ability through land use laws to set conditions on the city permit to use that space as a club that serves alcohol. That's what Johnston wants to do.

Kessler said the agreement drawn up by city lawyers and VFW lawyers gives the VFW "exactly what they already have."

"The agreement had absolutely zero input from the community," Kessler said.

Wayne Ross, whose law firm represents the VFW, said the club is contesting issues raised by the Kesslers. "But in the interest of being good neighbors, they've agreed to the conditions."

"These guys should have a place where they can relax and not still have to fight for freedom," Ross said.

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.