Council passes bar limits

BY CHRIS CLARK | MAY 06, 2009 7:30 AM

The Iowa City City Council voted 5-2 in favor of an ordinance that would limit the number of bars and liquor stores during its first consideration of the measure Tuesday night.

As a part of its plan to diversify businesses downtown, the council heard input from UI experts and the public regarding the proposed ordinance. The approval would prevent any new bar — a business open between midnight to 2 a.m. whose main revenue comes from consumption of food or drink — from opening within 500 feet of another bar anywhere in Iowa City.

New liquor stores — businesses that receive 25 percent of their income from alcohol sales — could not open within 1,000 feet of another liquor store downtown.

UI Professor Emeritus Peter Nathan and Associate Director of Health Iowa Sarah Hansen presented data to the council suggesting a direct correlation between bar density, over-consumption, and resulting negative consequences.

Will Jennings, a UI rhetoric lecturer and a former UI graduate student also addressed the council.
“I don’t think this zoning is necessarily going to be the answer,” he said. “But it’s important we address this issue. It’s going to be a very difficult decision.”

Other Iowa City residents expressed their desire to promote the diversity of the downtown, noting the need to assess and respond to all the factors of the decision — such as new business owners’ ability to afford rising rents — before making a decision.

Councilor Connie Champion said she will support the ordinance but said she thinks the problem goes deeper than just the number of bars.

“It’s irresponsible bar ownership,” she said. “I love to drink. I’m not against it, but I don’t serve people more alcohol in my house when I think they’ve had too much to drink.”

Councilor Matt Hayek said he would also support the ordinance, but he thinks officials need to start looking at the bigger picture.

He said he feels the City Council has taken several initiatives — such as increased drinking enforcement — to combat the drinking problem. But, he said, he was not seeing enough effort on the UI’s part, noting the demise of the Campus 3 cinema, the closest movie theater to campus.

Hayek said the university must step up before any real progress can be made to reduce risky drinking.

Prior to the bar discussion, the council listened to locals expressing their opinions on the designation of the North Side Neighborhood as one of the city’s historic districts.

The council voted 6-1 in favor of the proposal during its first consideration Tuesday evening.

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