Council passes first vote to lower underage in bar fine


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Those caught in a bar underage are one step closer to seeing lower fines for their first offense.

The Iowa City City Council barely passed the first consideration for a tiered fine system with a 4-3 vote Tuesday evening.

Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek, along with City Councilors Mike Wright and Susan Mims, voted against reducing the fine —$500 plus an additional $235 in fees — for being underage in a bar after 10 p.m.

Hayek said it is too premature to make changes to the 21-ordinance, which is less than a year old.

Under the proposal, people would receive a $300 fine for their first offense —with the $235 fee addition, that would total $535.

"I'm very pleased that the council and city staff moved quickly on this," said Elliot Higgins, the University of Iowa Student Government president. "We always thought it was an excessive fine, but I waited until enough time had past to initiate this proposal."

During his tenure as City Council liaison, he first proposed the tiered system to city officials in April and said his ability to work with city councilors and advocate for students on other issues besides alcohol allowed him to be taken more seriously by councilors.

Despite any changes in fines, Iowa City police Sgt. Denise Brotherton said law enforcement's role won't change.

"It won't change how we do business," she said. "We'll still be enforcing like we would. It doesn't matter what the fine is."

Brotherton said she believes the amendment to the fine won't change student behavior.

"We always anticipate as new ordinances are passed that people will try to find ways around it, and we adjust accordingly," she said.

If all three considerations are passed, the amendment will take effect July 1.

The Council also approved $250,000 in aid to downtown developer Marc Moen in rehabilitating the space formerly known as Vito's, 118 E. College St. Moen recently bought the building, and the project is expected to cost around $2 million.

In accepting the tax increment financing, Moen agreed to not establish a bar or restaurant on the premises. The grant represents roughly 12.5 percent of the total project redevelopment expenses for the project. The developer is required to enter into a minimum assessment agreement of $1.56 million over a span of eight years.

Moen is also associated with Plaza Towers and owns other buildings in the area. He said he hopes to attract national retail and create office space in the new area.

Iowa City Planning and Development Director Jeff Davidson told councilors Moen had been recently approached by potential renters interested in using both floors for retail, a deviation from original mixed-use plan.

All city councilors were in favor of Moen's plans and expressed interest in seeing the developments unfold.

"We're all very excited about this project," Councilor Regenia Bailey said. "This is exactly what we want to see downtown."

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