Fight brewing over downtown night life 2 measures seen as violating compromise


Alderman Louise Hammond is rallying the support of business people and historic district residents to fight two bills she says violate a delicate compromise that limits downtown night life.

The Ward 1 Democrat has assembled a 70-page packet, emblazoned with the quotation "A Deal's A Deal," that argues that the bills violate an agreement brokered over a 3 1/2 -year period by diverse interests. The material is intended to help fuel opposition to the measures at a public hearing scheduled for Sept. 25.

At a city council rules committee hearing Monday, restaurant owners, residents, historic preservationists, and business and tourism officials aligned against the two bills and reaffirmed their support of the compromise in the Ward One Sector Study.

"It couldn't have been clearer," Mrs. Hammond said of the meeting. "It was unanimous. Everyone opposed those bills."

But restaurant owners who already have 2 a.m. liquor licenses grew nervous at the suggestion that if the bills pass and downtown becomes raucous, some members of the sector study group would fight to roll back all closing times to midnight.

"We're getting punished, too, by all of you," local restaurateur Jerry Hardesty said at the meeting. "The way I feel, if I put my hand in now, I may not have it when I pull it back."

Mrs. Hammond said yesterday that forcing all restaurants to close at midnight was "only a hypothetical," adding that the entire town, not just the restaurant owners, would suffer if the 2 a.m. closings were approved.

She said the sponsors of the late-night bills were using the legislation to drive a "wedge" between historic district residents and business owners.

Alderman Wayne C. Turner, R-Ward 6, who also attended the meeting, said revoking all 2 a.m. liquor licenses is appropriate only as a last-ditch solution. The best way to stop more 2 a.m. liquor licensing, he said, is to unify downtown business owners and residents against the late-night bills.

One measure, submitted by Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, would allow all downtown restaurants to stay open until 2 a.m. after the businesses submit to public hearings for permits.

The other bill, sponsored by Alderman Carl O. Snowden, allows restaurants with midnight closings to receive zoning permits for 2 a.m. liquor licenses and allows those establishments to add live entertainment and dancing. The legislation does not require restaurant owners to seek additional permits or public hearings.

Mr. Snowden argues that his measure is written narrowly and applies only to two restaurants he believes have been unfairly denied 2 a.m. closing times: Buddy's Crabs & Ribs and Maria's Sicilian Ristorante and Cafe. Mr. Snowden said that he would amend his bill to clarify that point.

The legislation, which he has dubbed a "fairness bill," comes after the council endorsed a 2 a.m. liquor license for Harbour House, a City Dock restaurant whose late hours also were in dispute.

"What's good for one restaurant should be good for two more," Mr. Snowden said.

In her handout, Mrs. Hammond contends that Mr. Snowden's bill would more than double the number of 2 a.m. restaurants downtown, from 12 to 28.

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