Alcohol in parks on hold

On Tuesday Iowa City City Council deferred further action on an ordinance allowing alcohol in public parks.

A+pavilion+in+lower+City+Park+is+seen+on+Tuesday%2C+Sept.+5%2C+2017.+City+Council+is+voting+to+allow+community+members+to+apply+for+a+permit+to+have+alcohol+in+public+parks.+%28Joseph+Cress%2FThe+Daily+Iowan%29
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Alcohol in parks on hold

A pavilion in lower City Park is seen on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. City Council is voting to allow community members to apply for a permit to have alcohol in public parks. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

A pavilion in lower City Park is seen on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. City Council is voting to allow community members to apply for a permit to have alcohol in public parks. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Joseph Cress

A pavilion in lower City Park is seen on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. City Council is voting to allow community members to apply for a permit to have alcohol in public parks. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Joseph Cress

The Daily Iowan; Photos by Joseph Cress

A pavilion in lower City Park is seen on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017. City Council is voting to allow community members to apply for a permit to have alcohol in public parks. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

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Molly Hunter

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The Iowa City City Council deferred indefinitely action on an ordinance amendment allowing alcohol in city parks through a permit process.

Comments from community members caused council to defer the second vote on the ordinance.

The motion for deferral passed 7-0. The ordinance would have allowed wine and beer in a park shelter as part of a park-shelter reservation. Alcohol would only be permitted within the boundaries of the shelter.

Only 82 12-ounce cans of beer would be allowed, or the equivalent thereof, and a ban on glass containers would be added later as an administrative rule.

Council received some correspondence from community members requesting the ordinance not be approved.

Community member Yamini Bhagwat emailed the councilors urging them to vote no on the ordinance. Bhagwat said current city ordinances already allow alcohol at shelters with special permits, making the new ordinance unnecessary.

“I am concerned that the new ordinance, in effect, decreases oversight of alcohol consumption in park shelters and will open the door to increased incidents of public intoxication in our parks,” Bhagwat said in the email. “Misuse of alcohol regularly causes stress and tension in our public spaces. Alcohol-related crime is common in Iowa City.”

Simon Andrew, the assistant to the city manager, was present at a Partnership for Alcohol Safety  meeting in which the ordinance was discussed. He said while a clear consensus didn’t emerge from the group, many people were uncomfortable with moving forward with the ordinance.

“A lot of it just had to do with the mixed messages that they thought this might send to the student community and to the university community,” Andrew said. “I wouldn’t characterize it as strong opposition … but just a discomfort with it.”

Given that the partnership is a stakeholder group designed with alcohol safety in mind, Andrew said there was no reason to move forward given the members’ hesitancy.

Mayor Jim Throgmorton said the meeting brought up concerns about unintended consequences of passing the ordinance, which is why staff has recommended indefinite deferral.

“We have a lot of concern with the neighbors about this,” Iowa City resident Judy Pfohl said.

Pfohl said many people are concerned about maintaining the separation of request for shelter and the request for alcohol use in parks.

“For maybe some of the bigger areas where we’ve got more space between where a shelter is and where homes are, maybe it won’t bother them to have potentially keg parties or loud parties,” Pfohl said. “We have had some trouble in the past with some of the things going on periodically at the park, and we think this would just be adding more potential for problems for neighborhood parks.”

Benjamin Nelson, the University of Iowa Student Government City Council liaison, said he’s generally indifferent about the ordinance.

“There’s only one park that’s relatively close to where students [live], and that’s College Green,” Nelson said.

Nelson said he doesn’t think the ordinance will result in students being disruptive in the parks but noted the public commenters made some good points.

“If the city does choose to expand alcohol regulations or [relax] alcohol regulations, it needs to be very cautious,” Nelson said. “So I appreciate council taking time and being deliberate not rushing things.”

Related Content: ALCOHOL IN PARKS PASSES ITS FIRST TEST

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