South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

High density of South Side bars prompts potential change to all city


A proposed zoning ordinance aimed at controlling, in the long-term, the density of bars on the South Side was the main topic at the December 12 meeting of the South Side Planning Forum.

But a day later, Councilman Jeff Koch said the ordinance, prepared by the zoning department at his request, did not reflect his intent, and that he planned to revise it.

The guest speaker at the meeting was city zoning administrator Jeremy Smith. Mr. Koch was also in attendance.

The ordinance discussed at the meeting prohibits new liquor licensees from opening within 150 feet of three existing licensees in neighborhood business districts.

Some audience members expressed displeasure with that proposal, saying allowing three bars in such close proximity would not alleviate the excessive bar problem.

When reached by telephone the next day, Mr. Koch said it was never his intent that three bars be permitted within 150 feet. (The 150 feet refers to the lot parameter.)

He plans to amend the ordinance to prohibit new liquor licensees from opening within 150 feet of any more than two existing licensees in neighborhood business districts.

Establishments already in operation would not be affected as this only refers to new liquor licensees.

A public hearing on the proposal will be held at the city Planning Commission on January 23 at 2 p.m., 200 Ross St.

The recommendation from the Planning Commission will then be sent to City Council, who will hold another hearing.

If the Planning Commission recommends against it, it will require seven votes by City Council. Otherwise, it will require five votes.

While city council has not yet voted on the measure, the city code requires the zoning department to adhere to proposed laws when considering requests for zoning approval.

The number of licenses won't change under the proposal, said Mr. Smith, but it will help spread them out in the long-term.

The density may even decrease if a liquor establishment is sold to someone who does not put another bar in.

“That's all we can do,” he said.

He began his presentation by saying many liquor licenses have been transferred to South Side in the last few years.

Today, 25 percent of all liquor licenses in the city are located in the South Side. There is also a high density rate, with six liquor licenses in the 1500 block of East Carson St., for example, and five in the 1600 block.

While the presence of bars and restaurants in a community is positive in many ways, an excessive number can have a negative effect on the quality of life.

Stating “zoning is not a quick fix to anything,” he said the proposed citywide legislation will accomplish two main objectives.

First, it will protect other districts from suffering the same fate as South Side, and, secondly, it will bring down the density of bars in the South Side in the long-term.

Mr. Smith said the city must adhere to the law while devising a strategy to help with the South Side's bar density problem.

That means the city: cannot pass an ordinance that applies to the South Side only; cannot put a moratorium on bars; and cannot contradict the state Liquor Control Board.

“We're trying to create a balance here, not stop things,” he said.

Mr. Smith cautioned attendees this “won't solve your problem overnight.”

“We can't force businesses out, but can push down peaks [5-6 bars in a block] so that after years you will have a healthy balance.”

He also said the state has a complicated way of assessing if an establishment is a bar or restaurant. Since the city can't mirror what the LCB does, nor confict with it either, a new use category will be established called “restaurant with liquor license.”

The meeting began with an overview of area crime by Zone 3 Commander RaShall Brackney.

In the crime statistics report for the South Side Flats from Nov. 12 to Dec. 12, there were: 7 aggravated assaults; 11 burglaries; 43 thefts; 6 robberies; 3 vehicle thefts; and 3 drug arrests.

For the Slopes, there were: 1 aggravated assault; 3 burglaries; 7 thefts; and 2 drug arrests.

As for trends, South Side burglaries are on the decline again, she said, while thefts from cars are high. Laptops, iPods, purses, are among those items stolen in excess, and which should never be left in view of thieves.

Bike officers have been reassigned to the Flats. Their purpose: “visibility, visibility, visibility.”

Commander Brackney has been working closely with the Graffiti Task Force. “Graffiti is still huge over here,” she said, and officers take the crime seriously.

Four youngsters who pled guilty to graffiti vandalizing were sentenced today to fines and community service, she said.

To a question about hit-and-runs of vehicles, she said the South Side averages about 10 per day, which she attributes to tight parking and congestion.

“I think over here people think they can hit a car and go,” she said.

To a question about Paparazzi's serving food outdoors until 3 a.m., Commander Brackney said there are no restrictions on time for restaurants, and that Paparazzi's is permitted to sell outside.

But if illegal parking is occurring the cars will be towed.

To a complaint from an attendee that she called 311 and was told to call back later, Commander Brackney said that is the former Mayor's Complaint Center. For a police response, call 911.

Regarding the problems with some local bars, she said Town Tavern has shown a big improvement since she walked through the establishment a few months ago checking off what had to be taken care of.

“He is complying,” she said, noting there have been no fights, and no complaints of loud music or of valet parking lately.

There has also been a huge improvement at Fix's Inn, she said.

The next meeting will be on January 9. Forum chair Hugh Brannan told members to come prepared to assess whether the forum wants to speak at the January 23 hearing on the proposed zoning ordinance.

Josette Fitzgibbons, of the Dept. of City Planning, said members could call her or Ben Kelley, a community planner, to discuss the issue.


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