Barbershop lawsuit dismissed Thursday

By Ed Brock

A lawsuit brought by a would-be barbershop owner against the city of Riverdale was dismissed in a hearing that lasted just over half an hour on Thursday.

Barber Nathaniel Ryles, Jr. filed the lawsuit in February after the city turned down his application for a conditional use permit to open his shop, Nate's Barbershop, in Windermere Plaza on Ga. Highway 138. When the lawsuit came before Superior Court Judge Albert Collier, attorney Simon H. Bloom who was representing the city moved that the case be dismissed because Ryles and his landlord, Phil Talalai, did not file a constitutional challenge with the city before filing the lawsuit.

"That's undisputed in this case, your honor. That's exactly what they've done," Bloom said.

A constitutional challenge would have been a letter or something saying that the city would be violating Ryles' constitutional rights to deny the permit and should have been filed at the time Ryles and Talalai applied for the permit, said Ryles' attorney Tom Pye.

Pye said he was not representing Ryles at the time he applied for the permit and Ryles said he didn't know he had to file the constitutional challenge.

Pye said he had asked the court to proceed with the case under a writ of mandamus, saying some aspects of the case were not based on a constitutional challenge. In his ruling Collier said those elements of Ryles' case were intertwined with the constitutional challenges.

Ryles and his landlords, Talalai's company Southpark Developments Inc. and its sister-company Winderemere Holdings, LLC. contend that when the area at 501 Ga. Highway 138 was annexed by the city and rezoned to commercial property in 2000, a barbershop was a permitted use in the property that didn't require a special permit.

But according to court documents, the city council voted to amend the zoning ordinance, effective Sept. 1 of last year, to require barbershops, beauty salons and nail salons to seek approval from city officials in the form of a conditional use permit.

Ryles found out about the change when he applied for a business license and applied for the conditional use permit. Pye said Ryles had leased his spot in the shopping center before the amendment was passed but applied for the business license after the amendment.

The city council denied the application Jan. 12 but Mayor Phaedra Graham vetoed the action.

"She didn't know why they denied it in the first place," Ryles said.

The council however, overrode the veto Jan. 26.

Ryles filed suit to have the permit issued and for damages due to the shop not being open.

On Tuesday, Ryles and the development partners dropped the suit against the mayor.

Pye said the only explanation they've been given for the denial of the permit came from Councilwoman Michelle Bruce who told them she was concerned about the environmental impact of the shop.

Bruce said that members of her constituency had voiced the concerns.

"That's for all businesses," Bruce said, adding that there were other unspecified factors to be considered as well.

Ryles said he's been a barber for 10 years and he's lived in Riverdale for around four years. He's working now and he doesn't know if he'll apply again for the permit or if he will continue to lease the space where Nate's Barbershop would be.

Bruce said she couldn't say how she would vote if Ryles did reapply for the permit.

Bloom is also asking that the city be reimbursed for the estimated $30,000 in attorney's fees they've paid to prepare for the case.

"I provided the other side the opportunity to dismiss the case," Bloom said. "(The $30,000) is not a drop in the bucket for a small town like Riverdale."

Collier gave Bloom 10 days to file his briefs on the reimbursement of fees and then gave Pye 10 days after Bloom's papers are filed to file his response. Collier could hold another hearing at that time or just make a decision based on the briefs, Pye said.