Instead of allowing patrons to consume alcoholic beverages purchased from restaurants in the downtown “red zone” all year long, the Duluth City Council during its work session Monday (April 23) night directed the Alcohol Review Board to come up with a recommendation that would allow overflow patrons to take their cocktails, beer or wine outside while they wait for tables.
The proposed overflow policy would apply to the entire city, not just the two-block area near the Duluth Town Green.
The ARB had recommended at it April 10 meeting that the city consider changing the alcoholic beverage ordinance to expand a practice adopted in October 2010 for city-sponsored alcohol-sanctioned events downtown. That change allowed the city to issue special event patio sales permits to restaurants in the red zone that had licenses to sell alcoholic beverages.
These permits allow patrons of these restaurants to leave with alcoholic beverages purchased there for consumption in the designated zone, which includes the Town Green, during a dozen or so special events a year.
Patrons of Park Cafe and Steverino’s, whose patios abut the Town Green, had already been allowed to do this during the special events. This opportunity was extended to Chocolate Perks and future restaurants, such as Pure Taqueria with the previous change. Hours for sales of alcoholic beverages set by the state apply.
At the beginning of the council work session, citizen David Cossette appealed to the council to consider the impact of expanding the policy year-round and to provide an opportunity for more discussion.
Councilman Jim Dugan said he had not observed enough increased activity downtown to justify expanding the policy to 365 days a year and jeopardizing the city’s family-friendly atmosphere. Dugan also expressed concern about public safety if drinking were allowed downtown more often than just during designated special events. “We’re on a street with a lot of traffic,” he said.
An inquiry by Councilman Billy Jones about the reason for expanding the policy focused the council’s attention on the overflow issue. It arose because “when people visit some of our downtown restaurants,” City Clerk Teresa Lynn responded, “they don’t have an openness to stand outside and drink while waiting for a table.”
Lynn also explained that the item was placed on the ARB agenda following a review by city staff and police officials of the alcohol law change put into effect in 2010. Since it was implemented, there haven’t been any reports of disruptive behavior or citations issued for public drunkenness downtown. Alpharetta also recently expanded a similar policy to 365 days, she said, without problems.
Duluth Police Chief Randy Belcher reported there had not been any problems with drunkenness in the streets downtown. “We do have a lot of traffic,” he added.
Councilman Greg Whitlock commented he had been contacted by several citizens opposed to the change because Taylor Park, a children’s park, was located next to the Town Green. Drinking is not allowed in the park. Children play in the park and in the fountain on the Town Green, Dugan said.
Dugan suggested that if an overflow policy is adopted, it should apply to restaurants throughout the city. “We’ve got to look out for the interests of the entire city, not just downtown,” he said.
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Jones pointed out that in Athens, restaurants have areas roped off where patrons can drink alcoholic beverages while waiting for tables. A lengthy discussion ensued on the difficulty in drafting an ordinance change that would apply to all the restaurants in the city. The council settled on designating a certain number of feet from the restaurant where outside drinking would be allowed as a possible solution.
“One size won’t fit all,” remarked Councilman Kelly Kelkenberg. “It’s going to be difficult to be totally prescriptive.”
City Attorney Stephen Pereira advised the council “if the area is not marked, it’s going to be difficult to enforce.”
Councilman Whitlock proposed that the city attorney draft an ordinance change accommodating restaurant overflow patrons, but City Manager Tim Shearer suggested that matter be sent back to the Alcohol Review Board for a recommendation. The city council agreed with Shearer.
The council informally decided to put the ARB’s recommendation to eliminate the seating requirement for restaurants in the alcoholic beverage ordinance on the agenda for the May regular meeting.
In order to sell alcoholic beverages, a restaurant in Duluth presently has to have a minimum of 50 seats. The removal of the seating requirement would apply citywide. This recommendation had also been made by the ARB at its April 10 meeting.