Planning Commission rejects plan to limit liquor licenses
Another solution being sought
that doesn't affect entire city
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Smith, no relation to the city planning administrator, said the South
Side Chamber's decision was reached among its board members.
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
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
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.
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
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
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