Archive for Thursday, July 24, 2008

Downtown alcohol now reality

July 24, 2008

Restaurants in downtown will now be able to serve a complete line of alcohol after the Baldwin City Council approved rezoning the area on a 3-1 vote.

The approval was an ordinance amending the central business zoning classification to include "drinking establishments qualifying as restaurants" as a permitted use. The ordinance states that there must be 50 percent of revenue through food sales. Bars are not permitted.

"I think it was noted that this is a bit of a watershed moment allowing alcohol sales in downtown," said Council Member Tony Brown. "I think that's a reasonable thing to consider, crossing a line that hasn't been crossed before."

When Baker University was founded 150 years ago, it sold land to finance building the school. The deeds to that property contained a stipulation that if alcohol was manufactured or sold from the property, the university would regain ownership of the land.

However, Baker has allowed that stipulation to be removed for one downtown business and Baker President Pat Long said it would be considered on a case-by-case basis for other locations.

"Anytime any kind of request comes to Baker University, we'll take it under advisement and to the board of trustees," said Long. "We took this to the board. I think the board thought it was the right time and place."

The question last arose in 2000 and the council approved the sale of cereal malt beverages downtown. This takes it a step further, but the council is not opening the door to businesses that would just sell alcohol.

"We're not advocating bars," said Council Member Ken Wagner. "If we didn't have the 50 percent food regulation, I wouldn't favor this."

Council President Amy Cleavinger also noted the food requirements and that the council wasn't creating an entertainment district, but wanted to encourage other restaurants to locate in the refurbished downtown area.

"It's a situation where the time has come," said Cleavinger. "I know it's a big step, but it's time."

When the planning commission held a public hearing on the issue last Thursday, only one person, Gene Nelson, spoke against it. Nelson was at Monday's meeting and expressed his concern.

"How would Baldwin deal with what Lawrence dealt with," Nelson said in reference to the Last Call bar that was known for violence but is now closed. "Gangs, drugs, late night noise, shootings?"

He did admit that the food requirement made a difference.

"I'm not worried about one restaurant," he said. "I don't have a problem with five restaurants."

Wagner again stressed that this measure wasn't about bars.

"I don't think anyone on the council wants to do anything negative to downtown Baldwin City. This is positive," said Wagner. "I wouldn't do this if I thought we'd have people down there hootin' and hollerin' late at night.

"We don't want this thing to be a negative," he said. "If it gets out of control, it will be handled."

Brown was the lone vote against the measure. He had voted for it during the first reading of the ordinance two weeks ago, as did Council Member Ted Brecheisen, Jr. Brecheisen did not vote Monday. He owns the building that has gained the release from Baker.

Brown said Tuesday that he favored the measure but was voicing his displeasure about how Brecheisen and the business owner had voiced opposition to a Baker request to close Dearborn Street between Sixth and Eighth streets. It was discussed at last week's planning commission meeting, too, and Baker withdrew the request as a result of the opposition.

"I wanted to make a point to them that Baker wasn't pleased with them speaking out against closing the road," said Brown. "It was purely political."

Because it was a voice vote and Brown was the last to vote, the measure had already passed and his vote didn't matter.

"No, it didn't," he said. "I still support alcohol downtown. If it had come down to my vote, I would have voted for it."

The new rezoning won't take effect until the ordinance is published in the Signal next week.

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