South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret Smyka
Contributing Writer 

Forum hears about uncontrolled proliferation of bars on South side


The problem of the proliferation of bars in the South Side again took center stage at the January 9 meeting of the South Side Planning Forum.

At last month's meeting, an ordinance designed to control the density of bars, in the long-term, was introduced.

Since that meeting, the ordinance was revised to more accurately reflect the intent of its sponsor, Councilman Jeff Koch.

The ordinance now prohibits a bar from opening within 150 feet of any more than two existing bars in local neighborhood commercial districts.

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

The ordinance presented at last month's meeting prohibited bars from opening within 150 feet of any more than three existing bars.

The proposed legislation also contains a zoning separation for restaurants with liquor licenses and those without liquor licenses. Currently, there is no differentiation.

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

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

If the Planning Commission recommends against it, it will require seven votes by city council for passage. Otherwise, it will require five votes.

Forum chair Hugh Brannan instructed members to notify him or Christine Gaus by noon on January 22 if their organizations support the legislation. (Organizations may also abstain.) If there is consensus, he will make preparations to speak at the January 23 public hearing.

Today, 27 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.

One of the groups on record as favoring the ordinance is the South Side Community Council. A member of that group's Bar Task Force, Mary Ann Sevick, talked about the task force and the need for the proposed legislation.

The task force was formed in April 2006 in response to the “uncontrolled proliferation of bars in our community,” she said.

It is composed of residents, developers, realtor, architects, designer, writer, certified public accountant, attorney, and several South Side business owners.

To the commonly asked question of “Why now?” she said that since April, six new bars opened with added capacity of 1,751 patrons. Two of those were approved by the Pa. Liquor Control Board despite formal protests. Two more applications have been filed to open bars.

Regulating density will increase the probability that liquor establishments will locate outside South Side, she said.

The number of liquor licenses in the South Side in 2006 was 100, a 30 percent increase from the 77 licenses in 1996. Of those 100 licenses, 65 are for establishments on East Carson St.

“If you want to be a profitable bar, this is where you locate,” she said.

The impact of so many liquor licenses has been: parking problems; drunken driving arrests projected by the city police to triple between 2004 and 2006; 10 hits-and-runs of vehicles per day; over 3,500 calls to 911 per week from Zone 3; and noise, violent crime, drugs, prostitution, litter, vandalism and graffiti.

The next speaker, Megan Stearman, manager of business development for the South Side Local Development Co., discussed strategies employed by other cities to combat these problems.

In Chicago, the Hospitality Resource Partnership (HRP) serves as an informal alliance among hospitality, safety, development, and community organizations working together to create safe and vibrant places for people to socialize.

One of its objectives is to orient new and current hospitality businesses to rules, regulations, and community standards. It also seeks to intervene with “at-risk” hospitality businesses by a peer-to-peer consultation prior to increased enforcement and administrative action.

East Carson St. is considered a hospitality district.

HRP is administered by the non-profit Responsible Hospitality Institute (RHI), which promotes cooperation among those involved in hospitality, safety, and community development groups.

Besides Chicago, RHI is working with San Diego; Seattle; Springfield, Missouri; Windsor, Ontario; Phoenix; Norfolk; and Boulder.

As to South Side, Ms. Stearman said a 24/7 city requires 24/7 services. Weekends should be viewed as a “special event,” she said.

Another quality-of-life strategy is late night tours for city officials “to see the kind of policies we really need,” she said.

Other proven strategies in hospitality zones throughout the U.S. and Canada include a smoking ban, more trash cans for litter, and patron education. The latter is necessary, she said, as bars are overserving, resulting in drunks and subsequent public urination, fighting, vandalism, etc.

Enforcement is the key, she said. “We have a need for better enforcement in the South Side.”

As to what South Side can do immediately, she cited: litter control, establish a local hospitality resource panel, collaborate with Zone 3 police, and advocate for city and state policy changes.

An attendee reminded everyone that it is not entertainment which the task force objects to, but rather the attitude that “it's okay to do whatever you want in the South Side,” she said.

In other business, Judy Dyda, Manager of Community Planning at the SSLDC, reminded everyone that the revision process for the neighborhood plan is underway.

Surveys will be mailed to all local residents seeking input which will help the committee set priorities.

The neighborhood plan committee will next meet on Janruary 24.

The next forum meeting will be on February 13.


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