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Mitchell sidewalk wine ordinance passes

Mitchell voters on Tuesday approved an ordinance allowing wine service on downtown sidewalks.

The result comes exactly a year after the ordinance was passed by the Mitchell City Council on June 3, 2013, with more than an hour of public testimony coming before that council vote. A month later the ordinance was referred to a public vote, which took place Tuesday.

A total of 1,215 voters, or 60 percent, voted in favor the ordinance to permit outdoor wine service at downtown businesses, and 826 voters, or 40 percent, voted against the ordinance.

Only Mitchell residents were able to vote on the ordinance. Twenty-two percent of registered voters in the city cast ballots in the election.

Mitchell Main Street & Beyond Executive Director Molly Goldsmith, whose group endorsed the ordinance, said the result is good news for downtown.

“It’s a great opportunity, as we’ve said this entire time,” Goldsmith said. “It will be a great tool for economic development.”

The ordinance will allow any downtown business making at least half of its total income from food sales to apply for a permit to sell and serve wine on sidewalks adjacent to the applying business.

The ordinance will take effect after the results of the election are canvassed Monday by the City Council, Mitchell Finance Officer Marilyn Wilson said Tuesday.

Councilman Mel Olson has been a critic of the ordinance and voted against it when it came before the council last year. In an interview Tuesday after the election, Olson said he now worries the passing of the ordinance will open the door to more requests for the use of downtown sidewalks.

“The people are always right. They always get what they want,” Olson said. “The problem is that they don’t always realize that what they want today is going to cost them a little bit tomorrow.”

Olson said he also worries pedestrians, especially those in wheelchairs or pushing strollers, will be inconvenienced by the tables and chairs likely to appear on downtown sidewalks as a result of the ordinance.

According to the ordinance, any business that applies for a permit will be required to pay a fee to the city, which will issue the permits, and provide its hours of operation, and a site plan that shows where outdoor furniture would be located. Before a permit is granted, the city will consider the impact of any plan on nearby public property, other businesses and residents.

Any business given a permit would be required to have liability insurance to cover any claims that could arise from the operation of an outdoor dining area.

The Rev. Carroll Torberson, of Grace Baptist Church in Mitchell, has been an outspoken critic of the ordinance and led the effort to refer it to a public vote. Torberson did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday night.

When given the chance in recent years, Mitchell voters have rejected other proposals involving alcohol. In 2010, voters defeated, 56-44 percent, a proposal to allow off-sale liquor sales in the city on Sundays. In 2007, a proposal to lift the cap on the number of malt-beverage licenses in the city was rejected by voters 51-49 percent.

Given that history, Olson said he was surprised by the results of Tuesday’s vote, but speculated supporters of the ordinance were helped by the turnout for the other primary races held Tuesday.

Council President Jeff Smith, who first introduced the sidewalk wine ordinance to the council, said in an interview Tuesday after the election that the results of the vote show the majority of people agreed with the council on the issue. Smith said he was pleased by the result of the vote because he believes downtown businesses should be able to decide whether to have outdoor wine service.

“It’s in the businesses hands now, where I think it should be,” he said.