Stoner cafe gets liquor license

Owner renews effort to open once-popular eatery

Despite concerns from the sheriff, Montezuma County commissioners voted to renew a liquor license for Mary Jane at Stoner because there had been no liquor law violations in the previous year.

"There is no evidence of violations, therefore there is no good cause not to renew," said Jeff Kane, attorney for Frank McDonald, the owner-operator of the cafe.

In a letter objecting to the license renewal, Sheriff Dennis Spruell cited "bizarre" behavior at the cafe and said deputies had been called to the property more than once because of complaints.

During the renewal hearing Monday, Spruell again raised concerns about neighborhood complaints of loud machinery operating late at night, and strange reports including one of a body in a chimney. But, he added it had quieted down in recent months.

"Stoner is far away from my deputy's regular patrols so it is extremely difficult to respond in a timely matter," Spruell said. "McDonald told The Denver Post that he plans to have his own police force which you cannot do unless a town is incorporated."

The commission denied the original renewal application in July citing questions regarding the ownership of the property and information that it was in foreclosure.

The original denial also triggered a public hearing with McDonald to respond to concerns about re-issuing the liquor license.

When asked if the foreclosure had been resolved, McDonald responded that the "note has been caught up. It is clear. There is a notice of withdrawal for the foreclosure."

County attorney John Baxter agreed that the license should not be denied if there had been no violations.

"Denying based on character can only be done during the original application. Without violations, it is more of a rubber-stamp process" he said, adding after the hearing that "we would have lost in court if it were denied."

McDonald testified at the hearing that he had been having a rough year because of illness, but had turned it around, and he was ready to move forward with his restaurant plans.

The name Mary Jane at Stoner is meant to "honor a neighbor named Mary Jane who has lived there all her life," McDonald said.

It also alludes to Amendment 64, a Colorado law passed last year legalizing recreational use of marijuana. In an interview with The Durango Herald last year, McDonald described his venture as family-friendly, cannabis-friendly, environment friendly model for a new era.

Montezuma County has banned commercial sales and cultivation of medical and recreational marijuana in unincorporated areas.

When asked about his plans, McDonald and publicist Lee Hart explained they envisioned an indoor-outdoor music venue, bar and restaurant.

"Our plans are for an event center, because there is nothing like that around here," McDonald said. "There are a lot of reasons why we haven't opened yet, but there are a lot of good reasons to open."

He plans to open the bar and grill in spring 2014.

Responding to concerns that the cafe was lacking basic water and sewer service, McDonald said the systems are in working order.

Regarding Spruell's concerns Kane said McDonald "wants to have a good relationship with the sheriff. A lot of it was misunderstanding."

McDonald's friend, Scott Lamburger, testified at the hearing that he is a changed man.

"He had some trouble, but now he has good partners," he said. "You will see it go a lot better for the sheriff and the people around the area."

"We had concerns, but if the issues are cleaned up then your ready to go," said Commissioner Steve Chappell before the board voted unanimously to approve the renewal.