April 24, 2007 |

More laws aren't the answer to bar problems

If at first you don't succeed, try try again.

Today, Councilman Jeff Koch is expected to present the latest version of his “bar legislation” to City Council. This time, although he has his numbers correct, he is still operating under the misconception that this will help solve the South Side's problem with bar patrons.

In submitting the revised legislation, Mr. Koch proposed to limit the number of liquor licenses in the Local Neighborhood Commercial district of South Side, basically Carson Street with a few side trips up 12th and 18th streets, to no more than 50. Reportedly, there are 57 liquor licenses now in the LNC.

One of the problems with this legislation is that it paints both bars and restaurants with liquor licenses (the state's definition for liquor license holders) with the same brush. Instead of looking for a real solution to the problem of out of control bar patrons, he prefers to provide false hope to residents that his proposed legislation will provide relief for their problems.

The latest incarnation of the legislation chooses to limit the density of the bars in the LNC instead of previous versions that planned to limit the number of bars by the distance they were located in relation to one another. Both versions, or all versions, carry the same problem...they don't do anything to provide relief to the people of the South Side.

There is no denying South Side residents could use city help in stopping the unruly behavior of its bar frequenting visitors, but to suggest this legislation will solve the problem is naive and short sighted. The legislation, since it was proposed in its first incarnation, has been enforced as if law. Since then there have been no additional liquor licenses granted for the South Side and yet complaints from residents are on the uprise.

Some members of the South Side Bar Task Force privately admit that of the 50 or so liquor licenses in the LNC and the 100 or so liquor licenses in all of the South Side that there are only a half dozen bars that present a problem for the neighborhood.

Instead of grouping bars and restaurants with liquor licenses together in one category and condemning all as evil and trying to prevent any more restaurants (with liquor licenses) from coming into the South Side, residents should put pressure on Councilman Koch to enforce the laws on the books already. Problem bars would quickly come into line if they were prosecuted for over-serving, permitting open containers outside of the premisses and code violations for excess capacity.

There is a fine balance between the South Side business district and the residents who have to share the same neighborhood. No one wants to see a return to the 70s and 80s with empty storefronts and depressed property values. Many of today's residents in the neighborhood weren't here then and don't recall that it was first the South Side Arts and Crafts Association (and its antique dealers) that gave people a reason to come to the South Side and then it was the bars and restaurants.

While the Arts and Crafts Association is long gone, along with many of its members, the restaurants and bars are still here and are still a destination for people from throughout the city, county and beyond.

Instead of working to prevent new restaurants from coming into the South Side, the residents should be welcoming the additional competition...spreading out the already oversaturated market. With parking already at a premium, new bars and restaurants would have to be that much better that their competition on the South Side to survive.

The number of liquor licenses on the South Side isn't the problem, the permitted conduct of the patrons is the problem and will continue to be a problem as long as the city tolerates that conduct and declines to enforce the laws already on the books.

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