Published: Oct 06, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Oct 06, 2012 04:57 PM
A proposed ordinance allowing restaurants, but not bars and nightclubs, to serve alcohol on public sidewalks has met opposition from bar owners and downtown boosters.
“It’s a shame,” said Rhys Botica, owner of the popular Whiskey club at Five Points. “I would have to think of relocating Whiskey to Raleigh.”
At a City Council session Thursday, City Manager Tom Bonfield said the ordinance excludes bars – businesses with less than 30 percent of revenue from food sales – because bars represent “a different dynamic potential for challenges.”
Botica challenged that opinion.
“There is no difference between what happens in a bar and what happens in a restaurant,” he said. “The difference is in how the place is managed.”
Sidewalk bars are “not something I would like to see in my city,” said Police Chief Jose L. Lopez. He and his wife had been heckled walking past an outdoor bar in San Diego earlier in the week, he said.
Owners of establishments that become nuisances could have their alcohol permits revoked. Mel Norton of Downtown Durham Inc. said DDI favors a “three strikes and you’re out policy.”
But, Lopez said, “I don’t find pulling of any permits is easy in this city.”
City Councilman Mike Woodard asked Bonfield and Lopez if they had data showing that bars are more problematic than restaurants. They did no, but Bonfield said, “It’s our professional judgment that the likelihood of a problem is greater.”
Advocates for sidewalk bars, though, said they actually improve security because they put “eyes on the street” that dissuade crime and raucous behavior
But Alley 26 owner Shannon Healey said police officers have thanked him for establishing his club, because it has cleaned up a downtown alley near City Hall long known for squatters and illegal dumping.
Dissuading prospective nightclub and bar owners from locating in Durham is more of an issue, Healey said, “than someone yelling from the sidewalk.”
A number of Durham restaurants and bars currently have outdoor seating areas on sidewalks, and serve alcohol there. But, said city-county Planning Director Steve Medlin, that’s actually illegal.
State Alcohol Law Enforcement agreed not to enforce the law while the city amended its code, he said.
“So there is absolutely a need for us to put something out there to allow what’s going on out there to occur,” said Medlin.
City Councilman Mike Woodard disputed the idea that outdoor bars create problems that outdoor restaurants serving alcohol do not. John White, speaking for the Durham Chamber of Commerce, concurred.
Melissa Muir of DDI, where Whiskey and Rebellion clubs use outdoor seating, would “lose a lot of the vitality and urbanity” if the ordinance is approved as it currently stands.
The ordinance is due for formal consideration at the council’s Oct. 15 regular meeting.