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Council may reconsider bar hours

By Staff | Mar 31, 2016

A defeated ordinance to allow bars in the South Cape to remain open until 4 a.m. on the weekend may be brought back for more discussion.

Councilmember Jessica Cosden has requested the ordinance be added to the agenda for reconsideration at Monday’s regular meeting at 4:30 p.m. at City Hall.

The item was added under “Unfinished Business.” As a member who voted on the prevailing side – which killed the measure Monday- Cosden can request that the motion be brought up again.

Cosden said she will propose a compromise: Bring back the original ordinance and change only that the late-hours bars will have to pay for two off-duty “detail” police officers instead of one as required by the pilot program.

Cosden voted against the original measure Monday as part of a 3-5 defeating vote, saying an extention of the trial hours program, in conjunction with the immediate hiring of five new officers as the police department requested, was something she wasn’t ready to do.

“I wasn’t convinced the tiny uptick in crime told by the police chief in the report justified hiring five employees,” Cosden said in a telephone interview Thursday. “My new proposal will tentatively have the bar owners pay for two detail officers with no money coming from the general fund.”

Cosden said she was ready to vote for the extended bar hours, but against the city having to hire more officers. Police Chief Bart Connelly then said he was ready to use overtime pay in the event he didn’t get the new officers, which would have cost the city even more money.

“Either way, he was going to get his way, but I think this is a compromise. It puts four officers downtown and the public at zero subsidization,” Cosden said. “I talked to the city attorney and she said this is the right way to do it.”

The request for five additional officers, one-third of whose time allocation Connelly said was needed for increased South Cape patrols, may have to wait until the budget process for 2017 begins this summer.

Cosden said she would consider the hiring of additional officers then, adding that asking for more personnel at this time was not appropriate.

Two bars/nightclubs took part in the open-until-4 a.m. trial period, Dixie Roadhouse and Backstreets Sports Bar. The two incurred additional costs required by the city for security to take part in the program proponents intended to be cost-neutral for the city.

Councilmember Rana Erbrick said it was the potential expense to the taxpayers that caused her to vote against the ordinance.

“If the district was to have extended hours, we would not spend taxpayer dollars to support them. It comes down to that, right there,” Erbrick said. “How could I justify that?”

Extended bar hours expire this weekend. Even if the ordinance is reconsidered Monday, it will have to go back through the public hearing process. Council would need to vote to reconsider and then set a final hearing for a date certain and advertise it.

The council would then have to reject the original ordinance again, then vote on the Cosden ordinance with amendments.

This means that extended bar hours will face, at best, a suspension until a date certain when it can be formally reconsidered, and approved.

Councilmember Richard Leon, who voted in favor of the extension along with Mayor Marni Sawicki and Councilmember John Carioscia, said council lost its focus on the issue.

“I think people lost what it was. The numbers added up to one or two extra police calls a weekend and two extra EMT calls per month. Come on,” Leon said Thursday. “The past few days we have seen an outcry from the community. People are upset. They didn’t expect us to vote it down.”

Meanwhile, the South Cape Community Redevelopment Agency Advisory Board will implore the city council to keep extended bar hours going.

There is a special meeting of the CRA Advisory Board at 2 p.m. today at the Chester Street Resource Center, 4816 Chester St., to discuss the ordinance.

According to Dan Puleio, acting chairman of the CRA Advisory Board, the Friday meeting is to determine an official statement of the board to the city council in regards to the ordinance.

Following Cosden’s decision to bring back the ordinance, the tone of the meeting will change from one imploring council to reconsider, to one expressing support.

“It’s wonderful. I feel confident if the bar owners are asked to step up to the plate, they’ll do that,” Puleio said. “It puts a different tone on it. Instead of the focus being on revisiting this, we will express our support for it.”

Last year, the city council approved the one-year pilot program to extend bar hours to see what kind of impact it would have on CRA businesses and on crime.

Lynn Pippinger, owner of Dixie Roadhouse, said previously she saw her business double with extended hours after losing money the previous year. She said she is already paying for two off-duty “detail” officers, so the ordinance shouldn’t have an effect on her business.

In the wake of Monday’s no-go decision, the business, though, said the destination venue would have to weigh its options and could close as it could not return to a losing-money proposition. That would cost both jobs and the Dixie’s community support contributions.

Backstreets, which is more of a neighborhood drinking establishment, saw itself losing profits, but still supported the extended hours option for the South Cape entertainment district.

In other business:

n Also on Monday’s council agenda is the city’s purchase of lots on Northwest 25th Terrace at a cost of $8,000 for the Festival Park project assemblage.

n The Jewish Community Center on Southeast 24th Avenue is requesting a zoning change on 5.27 acres of property from multi-family residential to a worship designation. The applicant intends to rezone the lots to make the current use (place of worship) consistent with the land use and zoning. Planning & Zoning Commission recommend approval.

n Council will discuss the Seven Islands Concept and Northwest Vision plans at a special workshop session at 4:40 p.m. on Wednesday in Council Chambers.

Staff writer Jim Linette contributed to this report.