On-sale alcohol removed from new zoning codeIssue will be discussed again in two weeks, city officials decide.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
A section allowing on-site sale and consumption of alcohol in neighborhood shopping districts was removed from a proposed new zoning code by the Mitchell Council on Monday night at City. By a unanimous vote, the council dropped a piece of a revised zoning code would have allowed on-sale alcohol purchase and use, if a business owner obtains a conditional use permit from the city. However, it will be discussed again in two weeks when the code comes up for a second reading.
The section was removed to prevent the entire code, which has been worked on for more than two years, from being placed in jeopardy. If the controversial on-sale provision were left in, council members said, opponents of that one section could refer the whole code to an election and have the whole thing thrown out. It would be better, they determined, to split out the on-sale provision and consider it separately.
So the council removed the section and moved the rest of the ordinance forward, with the understanding that the on-sale provision will be considered later on its own.
Councilman Phil Carlson made a motion to remove the section from the 102-page proposed new zoning code.
“I think we’ve heard time and time again that alcohol sales in this area are not supported by the people of Mitchell,” Carlson said.
He said it would also negatively impact property values.
Council President Jeff Smith said neighborhood shopping districts are commercial areas located on busy streets. He said as a capitalist, he favors allowing businesses to serve their customers.
“I don’t think we should be sitting here telling them what to do with their business,” Smith said.
Council member Marty Barington said this will not increase alcohol use or problems. He said he has heard “ a lot of support” for the idea and also has heard from people who are glad the new convenience store was allowed to open and sell off-sale malt beverages.
“I think this is a good thing,” Barington said.
Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Jay Larson said the commission’s “crystal ball gets a little cloudy at times.”
But Larson said denying on-sale alcohol might keep a hotel or restaurant from coming to Mitchell. He said a future council would amend the code and allow on-sale alcohol.
“I think it’s going to happen,” he said. “Why go through that process at a later time?”
Planning and Zoning Commission members Doug Molumby and Don Meyers backed Larson. Meyers noted it passed the commission 4-3. He said the panel thought it had to look to the future of the city.
“With a conditional use, you have control and you monitor what’s going on,” Meyers said. “Total prohibition didn’t work.”
The city is creating a new form of speakeasies, Meyers said. People are still drinking in areas that are not being patrolled by police.
“They actually have established their own little taverns in their garages,” he said.
Carlson, a lawyer, said he disagreed with that. He said he handles a lot of DUI arrest cases and most people are coming from bars when they are arrested.
Planning and Zoning Commissioner Bernie Schmucker said there are enough places to drink and gamble in Mitchell and expanding into residential areas isn’t needed.
Ray Borgen, who has emerged as a leading opponent of alcohol expansion in the city in the past two years, said he is opposed to the change.
“We want reasonable control of alcohol sales,” Borgen said.
He said what worked in the past was effective and he didn’t see the need for a change. Borgen said he is not in favor of prohibition but does not want to allow increased access. The zoning code has been “the last line of defense” for him and people who agree with him, he said.
Borgen said voters have repeatedly rejected alcohol expansion efforts in recent years and would be able to do so again if this was approved. Another ballot issue would be certain, he said.
“The majority of the voting public is against expanding alcohol sales,” Borgen said.
But he said he would not oppose allowing on-sale alcohol at a “nice restaurant” if one came into a neighborhood shopping area in the future. Borgen said that issue is best addressed if such a business seeks to come to the city.
Other pieces of the proposed code also sparked conversation and debate.
Carlson said prohibiting churches from being allowed to build in an industrial district could get the city into legal trouble.
“I don’t think we want to mess with First Amendment issues unless we have to,” Carlson said.
Councilman Mel Olson compared it to building a church along a road. That’s not allowed, either, he said.
“I think we’re on solid ground here,” he said.
Councilman Marty Barington said he favors leaving the code alone and dealing with any problems if they arise. Councilman Greg McCurry said allowing a church to build in an industrial area could turn into a bigger problem when a noisy company builds in an adjacent area.
Olson, who said he was recently in Las Vegas for his son’s 21st birthday, asked if the term “a private club” that was contained in the new code would mean a strip joint could be opened.
Carlson said a different section of the code would block “adult uses” and prevent the strip club from opening. Olson said that satisfied him and answered the question that he has heard from several citizens.
City Planner Neil Putnam said it was “a complete recodification” based on changing practices and policies as well as alterations in federal laws over the years as well as other factors.
“This is your regulatory document,” he said.
The discussion came as the council held the first reading of Ordinance 2408, which would place new zoning regulations in place. The draft was prepared by Putnam, former City Attorney Randy Stiles, city staffers, members of the Mitchell Planning and Zoning Commission and private citizens.
The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval after a public hearing in June.
Tracy praised the more than two years of effort behind the new zoning code. It has cleaned the code up and eliminated problems, Tracy said.
“You don’t have to be an attorney to figure this one out,” he said. Tracy said it would “serve the city well ” for many years.
No property is being rezoned, Putnam said, but uses and rules are altered under the proposed new code.