Public to weigh in on downtown bar limit

BY CHRIS CLARK | APRIL 21, 2009 7:30 AM

The downtown area is one step closer to being off-limits to new bars.

In its meeting Monday evening, the Iowa City City Council scheduled a public hearing on May 5 to discuss a new ordinance that would regulate the number of bars and liquor stores downtown.

The ordinance — which was passed to the city council after last week’s approval from the Iowa City Planning and Zoning Commission — would prevent new drinking establishments from opening downtown within 500 feet of another bar and new liquor stores within 1,000 feet. A drinking establishment is defined as a business open between midnight and 2 a.m., generating most of its revenue from food and drink sales.

The proposed ordinance is a result of the council’s desire to create a more balanced downtown. City officials said they hope a variety of businesses downtown will attract a more diverse group of people to the area.

The Planning and Zoning Commission voted on the ordinance last week after hearing from two UI alcohol experts.

One of the experts, Associate Director of Health Iowa Sarah Hansen, presented research to the commission suggesting a strong relationship between the density of drinking establishments, rates of consumption, and likelihood of violence and other criminal behaviors.

After hearing discussion from the public next month, the council will consider the proposal — the first of three votes necessary before implementing the ordinance.

In other business Monday night, the council approved an ordinance to rezone approximately 100 acres of land for general industrial use.

The land would be open to anyone for industrial use, said Councilor Connie Champion.

Officials hope the new industrial park will attract international companies that build and transport parts for wind-energy production — possibly making the UI the nation’s first wind-energy campus.

The land is located between a railroad line and a highway, on 420th Street near Highway 6, making it an ideal location for the transportation of those parts.

The council also agreed to accept funding from the state and federal government for flood assistance.

Champion said the majority of the money will go to people who didn’t receive sufficient help from previous government funding.

City officials did not discuss the recent firing of City Manager Michael Lombardo — an April 17 decision that left many members of the community confused.

Councilors also agreed to reevaluate the necessity of spending $15,000 to conduct a public survey to help prioritize city projects in light of budget cuts.

Although Champion said she did not remember whether Lombardo was the main advocate for the survey, she said when it comes to setting priorities, the city is “starting from scratch” without Lombardo.

“I was never totally in favor of [the survey],” Champion said, adding she has confidence the council can accurately assess the needs of the community without written documentation. “We are the public.”

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