South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

 
 

By David Assad
Contributing Writer 

Planning Commission rejects plan to limit liquor licenses

 

January 30, 2007



Another solution being sought

that doesn't affect entire city

Several

members of the City Planning Commission expressed sympathy for the

residents of the South Side Flats who are seeking a remedy for the

unruly bar scene in their neighborhood.

This expression of sympathy

occurred Jan. 23 when the residents packed a conference room during the

commission's semi-monthly hearings on the first floor of 200 Ross

Street Downtown.

Commission vice-chair Kyra Straussman said the

ever-growing night-life problem on the South Side is “clearly in

crisis” for the residents.

Despite their sympathetic feelings, the

board members voted 6-1 against a proposed zoning change that would

limit liquor licenses in city neighborhoods within Local Neighborhood

Commercial (LNC) districts.

The proposal was

initiated by councilmen Jeff Koch of Arlington two months ago. Mr. Koch

was at the hearing and he spoke briefly to the commission. The proposed

zoning-law change would allow no more than two liquor licenses within a

150 foot radius of each other in the 40-50 Local Neighborhood

Commercial districts in the city. Existing liquor licenses would be

“grandfathered in, but the legislation would prevent a new liquor

license from locating in a LNC if it was within the radius.

According

to testimony before the planning commission, in the past 11 years the

number of businesses with state LCB licenses for serving alcohol along

the Carson Street business-corridor has grown from 76 to 102.

City

zoning administrator Jeremy Smith, an urban planner, recommended to the

planning commission the approval of Mr. Koch's proposed ordinance. Mr.

Smith presented a detailed map of the South Side LNC district. The map

showed lots marked in red where no liquor-licensed businesses exist

while others were marked in blue where alcohol is legally served.

There

were also lots marked in yellow where the proposed law would still

allow for new alcohol-licensed businesses to open. There were about

five or six yellow “clusters” on the map, most of them located east of

the Birmingham Bridge.

South Side residents in favor of Councilman

Koch's proposal packed the conference room. The commission said it also

received a petition of 900 signatures from South Side residents backing

the zoning proposal which included 60 signatures from South Side

business owners.

Commission Chairwoman Wrenna Watson also

recognized a letter of support for the proposal from State

Representative Harry Readshaw of Carrick whose 36th District

encompasses portions of the South Side.

However, there were more

than a handful of city residents at the hearing who expressed their

opposition to the proposal. They were mostly business and community

leaders representing the Strip District, West End and North Side who

fear the proposal would severely hurt growth in their respective

neighborhoods. A representative from the eastern city neighborhoods

attended the meeting as an “interested observer” but had no yes or no

stance against the proposed law, claiming he needed more time to study

it.

Also expressing opposition to the proposal were two persons

connected to the South Side. Tom Smith, president of the South Side

Chamber of Commerce, voiced the chamber's opposition to the proposed

zoning change. Mr. Smith said the chamber agrees that something has to

be done to slow down the excessive noise, litter and other problems

associated with the bar crowd, the issue is more of a “police problem”

than a “zoning problem” and believes that the “handful of nuisance

bars” in the neighborhood should be dealt with rather than having an

ordinance that restricts business opportunities throughout the city.

Mr.

Smith, no relation to the city planning administrator, said the South

Side Chamber's decision was reached among its board members.

Penny

Folino, who owns a diner, a restaurant and a bar on Carson Street,

voiced her approval of the proposal and said after the hearing that she

was not pleased by the chamber board's decision. Ms. Folino said she

may have to consider not renewing her annual chamber membership when it

expires.

Another South Sider speaking out against the proposal was

Melanie Evankovich, founder of the Neighborhood Awareness Network. Ms.

Evankovich is the owner of the Gypsy Café. She stated at the hearing

that she is seeking a liquor license for her business, located on

Bingham Street near City Theatre.

If this law were passed, the Gypsy

Café would be able to have a liquor license approved. Ms. Evankovich

noted that she is seeking the liquor license to expand her growing

business.

She noted that the “middle-aged” crowds who eat at her

restaurant before and after theatre presentations, is not the type of

clientele that is creating havoc on the streets (including public

drunkenness, fighting and public urination) like the college-age crowd

of bar-hoppers found among nuisance bars.

The South Side Slopes

Neighborhood Association also sent a representative who spoke “not in

favor” of the proposed zoning amendment and submitted written remarks.

Among

the South Side leaders who spoke before the planning commission in

favor of the proposal were Thomas Shannon Barry (president of the South

Side Bar and Restaurant Association), Mary Ellen Leigh of the South

Side Historic Review Commission along with Susan McCoy, Nick Kefal and

Mary Ann Sevick, who have worked together as members of the South Side

Bar Task Force. This organization is designed to curb the number of

liquor licenses in the community. Ms. McCoy is also the South Side

Community Council representative for the Zone 3 Public Safety Citizens

Council.

There were numerous other South Side residents who

testified at the hearing, several of them mothers of young children

noting that the qualify of life in their neighborhood has drastically

suffered in recent years due to the increased noise, traffic and basic

unruly behavior from the nightly bar crowd that is especially bad on

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Those who opposed said that

measure might stall the South Side's bar growth, but it would not

eliminate the problem that already it exists.

The dozen or so West

End leaders at the hearing say they have made great strides in the past

five years in revitalizing a once dead business district just south of

the West End Bridge. By limiting where bars can open in all city

neighborhoods, the opportunity for smaller commercial strips to change

the dynamics of their street scenes, will be lost, according to those

who are opposed to the Koch plan.

Sandy Stevenson, a suburbanite who

identified himself as an active developer in the West End, said the law

would severely hurt that neighborhood's efforts in attracting “five or

six upscale restaurants” that are currently in negotiations to move

there.

Through a motion from Ms. Straussman, the planning commission

requested that Director of City Planning Pat Ford meet with officials

from the Luke Ravenstahl administration and report back in two weeks on

possible solutions for the South Side problem. This may include the

creation of a special task force. The planning commission's next

scheduled hearing date is Feb. 6.

John Graf, who represents the

North Side business interests, said there are many empty store fronts

on East Ohio Street not far from the baseball and football stadiums

which are seeking much-needed commerce. There are plans in the works to

revitalize this area, but those plans would be greatly hampered by this

proposal, according to Mr. Graf.

South Side Local Development

Company Executive Director Rick Belloli was an interested observer at

the hearing, but he did not formally speak. Mr. Belloli did was

approach Ms. Watson, the commission chair, to make sure that the board

was aware that the South Side Planning Forum was neutral on this issue

because the various organizations that the forum represents could not

come to a consensus.

After the planning commission sends its report

to city council it will be up to city council to schedule its own

public hearing on the proposal. Despite the planning commission's

rejection, city council could still pass the proposal by a 7-2 “super

majority” vote to enable it to become a law. However, Mr. Koch said he

would not circumvent the wishes of the planning commission until it

comes up with an alternative plan.

Bruce Kraus, the former

president of the South Side Chamber of Commerce, also attended the

hearing, but did not offer testimoney. Mr. Kraus is expected to

announce his intention to run for the District 3 city council seat this

year.

 

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