21 exemption raises hackles

BY DANIEL SEIDL | APRIL 02, 2014 5:00 AM

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An objection to a clarification of the 21-ordinance by one local business has led Iowa City officials to consider removing the possibility of an entertainment-venue exception.

“I think the bars starting to point fingers need to realize the easiest way to enforce it is to remove the exception,” said Iowa City City Councilor Rick Dobyns.

The Iowa City City Council approved an ordinance amending the 21-ordinance entertainment venue exemption with a 7-0 vote on Tuesday.

The ordinance clarifies that the city could deny an entertainment-exception application under the same circumstance that a business could lose its exemptions. These circumstances include serving alcohol to an underage person more than once in a five-year period, as well as when continued operation of the business would be detrimental to residents.

While the approval of the ordinance was unanimous by the councilors, one local business owner spoke up against the change.

Brad Temple, a managing partner at the Summit, 10 S. Clinton St., said the clarification is an attempt by the city to “pick winners and losers,” and he contended that it would unjustly lead to the denial of his establishment’s application.

“When we submitted our application … we did so with the city in good faith,” he said. “Now the city is unnecessarily delaying approval in order to change the language [of the ordinance].”

The ordinance will narrow the window in which an establishment could have a sale-to-underage charge. The period will be changed to the previous five years at the time the application is submitted rather than any five-year period in the business’ history.

The change may encourage establishments to change their practices rather than being permanently disqualified.

Under the new change, the definition of “DJ” was also clarified. DJs are not considered performers by the 21-ordinance. However, this is not meant to affect “producers” who play electronic drum machines, which could be considered instruments. The clarification will update the definition to include only those who play recorded songs or advertise as DJs.

While Temple contended that the Summit had only one sale-to-underage violation shown in state records, and therefore its application should not be denied, City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes disagreed.
“Our records show there have been two [sale-to-underage violations],” she said.

Temple said the Summit hosts a dueling piano show, and the 21-ordinance significantly affects the attendance at these shows.

“We quickly found out that not having [underage] after 10 p.m. made dueling pianos unable to [hold a crowd],” he said.

Dobyns said the entertainment-venue exception was originally drafted in order to give underage people a chance to still have a source of entertainment downtown.

“I go, well, we’ve got thousands of students that deserve to have options,” he said. “The alcoholic venues clearly know how to do the best job in providing entertainment.”

However, Dobyns said, he is not willing to keep the exception in effect if situations like the Summit’s make it difficult to enforce.

“I was willing to have the exception,” he said. “[But] It’s got to be enforceable. I don’t want to dilute the [ordinance] so much that it doesn’t work anymore.”

Dilkes agreed the exception makes it much more difficult to enforce the ordinance.

“The enforcement and the monitoring of these entertainment venues is incredibly time-consuming,” she said. “It’s a constant monitoring process. I think we try really hard not to play favorites, but it is difficult.”

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