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Neighborhood alcohol sales ordinance moves forward

The Mitchell Planning Commission moved a revised draft of the city's zoning ordinance forward to the City Council after a public hearing Tuesday night.

The Mitchell Planning Commission moved a revised draft of the city's zoning ordinance forward to the City Council after a public hearing Tuesday night.

A section to allow the on-sale of alcoholic beverages in neighborhood shopping districts, which are located near residential areas, survived a challenge made during the meeting. The commission voted 4 to 3 to keep the section.

"We're trying to look to the future here," said Commission Chairman Jay Larson.

About 10 people who attended the meeting opposed allowing on-sale alcohol in neighborhood shopping areas. On-sale is onsite sale and consumption of alcohol.

Alcohol sales and use have been a contentious public issue in Mitchell for the past two years.

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One of the most vocal audience members Tuesday night was Mitchell resident Ray Borgen, who has spoken on alcohol issues several times in the past two years.

"I've got to say, I'm really surprised to see this zoning code come from this body. If it came from the council, it wouldn't surprise me a bit," Borgen said. "But you guys fought (Arnie's) First and Foster as hard as we could, but this is like we're trying to turn Mitchell into the Deadwood of the east."

Borgen and others who agreed with him said allowing on-sale alcohol in neighborhoods would draw customers away from downtown businesses. Borgen vehemently said most Mitchell residents oppose on-sale in neighborhoods.

"The sentiment out there is against expansion of alcohol sales," he said.

Mitchell resident Jerry Toomey, who finished second in the June 5 mayoral race, praised city staff for its work updating the zoning code. However, he also took issue with allowing on-sale alcohol in neighborhoods, especially close to parks, schools and homes.

"There's enough alcohol all over the place," said Mitchell resident Martin Eilts, agreeing with Toomey's thoughts. "The neighborhoods should be left for kids and families. We don't want a bar next door, but it could happen."

Toomey and Borgen asked the commission not to recommend the zoning change for on-sale alcohol to the City Council. Both comments were met with applause from the audience.

"Don't allow for on-sale alcohol sales in neighborhood areas. It will also promote a casino atmosphere," Toomey said, again to applause.

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The on-sale alcohol portion of the zoning ordinance was the only issue discussed at the meeting. The entire zoning ordinance will now be brought to the City Council.

It also may end up before voters.

"If there's not major changes made in the zoning code, I will run a petition," Borgen said.

City Planner Neil Putnam emphasized the zoning ordinance discussed Tuesday is a draft only and the City Council is able to change anything in the code, including the on-sale alcohol portion.

On-sale would only be allowed as a conditional use, which must go through a formal process before it's permitted.

The council must have two readings of the ordinance prior to formally approving the drafted zoning rules. Putnam said no date has been set on when this will come before the Council.

The Planning Commission, Putnam and City Attorney Randy Stiles have been working to revise the entire zoning code for the last 18 months. The proposed zoning change was put into movement because city officials felt the current code was out of date.

Mitchell has 15 zoning districts.

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There are six residential districts, including two single-family districts, one medium-density residential, one high-density residential, a single family and manufactured homes district and residential lake.

There are also four commercial districts, one industrial, one public lands, one conservation, one urban development for growth on the edge of the city and a planned development district.

They will all be retained.

"We're not changing the zoning map," Putnam said earlier. "Nobody is changing their zoning now. Some of the uses are proposed for change."

Putnam said he and Stiles also updated some definitions and cleaned up some language.

"It reads a little better," Putnam said. "What we did was make it read more clearly."

The new code would also alter some rules so the Planning Commission and City Council will not have to issue as many exceptions to zoning rules in the form of variances. Putnam said they examined trends in construction and uses in districts that have changed over the years, and some parts of the city code are no longer applicable.

The Daily Republic's Tom Lawrence contributed to this article.

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