Friday, April 27, 2007

NEWS CENTER WCSH 6

Council Spars Over Pier Process

Web Editor: Caroline Cornish, Reporter
Created: 4/25/2007 10:34:53 PM
Updated: 4/26/2007 2:14:03 PM






Portland city councilors got into an argument Wednesday evening, while discussing how they'll be deciding on a proposal to redevelop the Maine State Pier. The two newest councilors, Kevin Donoghue and David Marshall, feel the process is not entirely clear.



The city council set a deadline of February 22 for developers to submit their design concepts for the Maine State Pier.

Two developers came through with $90 million plans. But while the Olympia Companies's plan has remained unchanged since that February 22 deadline, the other company, Ocean Properties, has changed its plan. Company officials said the changes are a way of reflecting community input they've received.

The Community Development Committee is charged with recommending a plan to the full council. At the committee's meeting Wednesday evening, Donoghue argued the committee should put in writing that it is only considering the proposals as they were made on February 22.

Committee chair Jim Cloutier, meanwhile, said the council made it clear a long time ago when it asked for proposals that this is a fluid process, and developers are allowed to make changes.

The committee voted to let councilors decide this issue any way they want. The committee also voted to host four different public hearings, each on a different aspect of the project. Topics include state and local regulations, the functions the plans would serve, the design of the projects, and their financing.

The committee will make its recommendation to the council in June.

NEWS CENTER

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Bollard

April 5, 2007

"Footloose" in Portland
Council passes big limits on booze and entertainment

By Chris Busby

The Portland City Council has passed sweeping new zoning limits on establishments offering both alcohol and live entertainment in the heart of the peninsula, and is preparing to impose these controls citywide.

The Council also voted to raise the liquor license fees paid by bars, restaurants, convenience stores and grocery stores throughout Portland to cover the cost of additional police in the Old Port on summer weekend nights. In addition to the $61,000 annual tab for police overtime in the district, these license holders could be required to cover the cost of city liquor enforcement activities aimed at keeping them in line. That sum will be determined during this year's city budget process.

And the Council made permanent the temporary limits enacted last year on so-called "after hours" entertainment between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. citywide. Liquor license holders who wish to offer such entertainment must limit attendance to those 21 and over; establishments without liquor licenses can admit patrons 18 and over.

The new zoning limits prohibit businesses offering both alcohol and live entertainment (music, comedy or theater) from locating within 100 feet of each other in the Old Port and the downtown Arts District – an area from State Street to India Street, Cumberland Avenue to the waterfront.

The 100 feet will be measured along "sight lines" from the entrance of one business to another. Very little analysis has been done on the commercial space affected by the new law, but with about 50 locations throughout the area now under the ordinance, hundreds of thousands of square feet of downtown real estate are now off-limits to the performing arts and alcohol, in combination.

Any existing business of this type within 100 feet of another will not be immediately affected. However, when one of these businesses closes, relocates or changes ownership, that space becomes off-limits to a new owner wishing to continue to offer both live entertainment and alcohol – until the establishment nearby also closes, moves or changes owners.

Over time, the limits will significantly change the character of the Old Port and Arts District, where there are numerous small clusters and strips of establishments offering drinking and entertainment. An ownership change at about two dozen popular nightlife spots effectively kills any future opportunity to have both drinking and live entertainment there.

Locations potentially impacted include: The Bistro at the Portland Harbor Hotel, Digger's, Liquid Blue, The Iguana, Cake, 51 Wharf Street, Threeways, the Old Port Tavern, Bull Feeney's, Granny's Burritos, The Mercury, Fore Play Sports Pub, Amigo's, Mim's, Portland Lobster Company, O'Naturals, Natasha's, Space Gallery, The White Heart, Shay's Grill Pub, David's Restaurant, Dogfish Bar and Grill, Mathew's, The Stadium, and the Cumberland County Civic Center. Pending measurement of the distance between their main entrances, The Big Easy and the Portland Regency Hotel could also be impacted.

Another sizeable set of establishments that do not currently host live music, DJs, poetry or dramatic performances are now barred from doing so in the future. These include: Rivalries, The Flatbread Co., Uffa! Restaurant, Katahdin, Bibo's Mad Apple Café, Norm's Bar & Grill, the Commercial Street Pub, Cinque Terre, Street and Co., Greek Corner, Five Fifty Five, Mesa Verde, Margarita's (Brown Street location), The Hilton Garden Inn, and the Dry Dock Restaurant and Tavern.

The Wine Bar, on Wharf Street, has scheduled a series of readings by members of a Shakespearean ensemble over the next two months, but does not hold an entertainment license. Its proximity to Cake, which does have an entertainment license, makes those performances illegal.

Uncle Billy's Resto-bar, on Congress Street, hosted several acoustic folk and blues performances earlier this year, but also lacks an entertainment license. Its proximity to Blue, a music club across the street, may bar Billy's from continuing to allow musicians to play there, pending a measurement by zoning administrators.

Some Old Port establishments that once hosted live entertainment, like Gritty McDuff's, are now barred from doing so due to their proximity to others that currently do. Several vacant locations that were once home to live music clubs – like The Alehouse's former space on Market Street, and the subterranean space at the corner of Fore and Exchange streets previously occupied by Players and The Basement – cannot reopen as similar operations.

Mayor Nick Mavodones joined Councilors Jim Cloutier, Jill Duson, Jim Cohen, Ed Suslovic, and Dr. Donna Carr in supporting the new limits. Councilors Dave Marshall, Cheryl Leeman, and Kevin Donoghue, whose district includes the affected area, voted against them, though all three joined Suslovic in an unsuccessful effort to impose the limits citywide.

The city is expected to expand the limits throughout Portland once business owners off the peninsula have been notified of the proposed changes.

Several members of the public spoke out against the limits last night. Patrick Banks told councilors the new zoning "encourages empty storefronts, and more empty storefronts means less public safety."

Jan Beitzer, executive director of Portland's Downtown District (a tax-supported non-profit that promotes downtown businesses), compared Portland's public safety problems to those of big cities like Tampa. She said that with new condominiums and dorms in the Arts District, it's important to create an atmosphere that's safe and appealing for downtown residents as well as workers and shoppers.

Bull Feeney's owner Doug Fuss, a member of the Old Port Nightlife Task Force the Council set up last year to study this issue, said that of all the task force's recommendations, the dispersal requirement is "the most important one.

"One hundred feet isn't much of a distance, but it's just enough to ensure public safety," Fuss said.

Justin Alfond of The League (the youth-centric political organization formerly known as The League of Pissed-Off Voters) also served on the task force. He called its process "rushed and flawed," and said the new zoning "just doesn't make sense."

In late March, the Portland Planning Board unanimously rejected the new zoning and tax initiative as unnecessary and ineffective.

Suslovic said the 100-foot rule is "critical" to "public safety and public health" in the area.

"I stand by my interest in not regulating fun," said Donoghue, who characterized the new zoning as "a collective punishment regime." He said bars and clubs offering late-night entertainment enhance public safety by generating "more eyes on the street."

"This is clearly entertainment licenses we're going after here," said Marshall. He added that the effort to limit nightlife on the peninsula puts the city "on a slippery slope towards temperance when we should be going toward tolerance."

"I'm supportive of the creative economy," declared Cohen. "But what happens after 1 a.m. on Wharf Street isn't it."

Chris Busby is editor and publisher of The Bollard. He can be reached at editor@thebollard.com.

[In the interest of full disclosure, the author notes that he has editorialized against both the zoning limits and the liquor license fee increases passed last night. He has also been paid for work as a DJ at several businesses potentially affected by the new law. – C.B.]
Press Herald

Council abolishes unpopular seat tax on Old Port bars

By KELLEY BOUCHARD, Staff Writer © Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. :ap -->
Friday, April 6, 2007

LIQUOR ORDINANCES
APPROVED BY THE CITY COUNCIL

City liquor license fees will increase July 1 to pay for additional police patrols downtown and tighter liquor enforcement throughout Portland. New fees have yet to be set.
Downtown bars with both alcohol and entertainment licenses must be at least 100 feet apart, door to door. Existing bars that violate this rule are grandfathered, but their licenses cannot be transferred to new owners.

Patrons must be age 21 or older in bars with after-hours entertainment licenses, which allow them to stay open after 1 a.m., when alcohol service must stop. Patrons of after-hours establishments that don't serve alcohol must be age 18 or older.

Portland is dumping a controversial seat tax paid by Old Port bars and requiring all city businesses that sell alcohol to cover the cost of increased enforcement, including extra police patrols in the city's best-known entertainment district.

Starting July 1, establishments that have licenses to sell alcohol, including stores, will begin paying higher fees for the privilege.

The City Council passed the new funding plan late Wednesday, along with measures to increase the distance between downtown bars and to keep teens from mingling with adults in after-hours nightclubs.

Councilors said the higher fees will pay for additional downtown police patrols, as well as stepped-up liquor enforcement throughout the city after dozens of establishments were cited for selling alcohol to minors.

Fifteen bars and stores were cited for selling alcohol to people under age 21 during a sweep of 42 Portland establishments last weekend. Portland police enlisted two volunteers, ages 19 and 20, to attempt to buy alcohol.

They made a similar sweep on Feb. 24 and March 3 with two different volunteers, ages 18 and 20. In that sting, 20 of 35 establishments sold alcohol to the minors.

"There's a lot more we could and should be doing," Councilor Edward Suslovic said Thursday. "It's clear we need to dedicate some resources to enforcement citywide."

The state does not have personnel dedicated to enforcing liquor laws.

The new ordinances will replace the 11-year-old seat tax and a related cap on the number of Old Port nightclubs, which is 24. Both have seen council scrutiny and public criticism. The changes evolved from the recommendations of a task force that was appointed last year.

At that time, the council was under fire for increasing the annual seat tax on Old Port nightclubs from $4.50 to $15 per seat. The goal was to raise $61,000 per year to cover the cost of additional police coverage, especially on busy summer weekends.

The council's finance committee will figure out how much money is needed and how much license fees should be increased, said Councilor David Marshall, public safety chairman. The cost of a liquor license currently ranges from $360 for wine only to $1,950 for a Class A lounge or bar.

The council will consider the higher fees as part of the city budget proposal to be voted on May 21. The annual cost of Old Port patrols alone could increase license fees as much as 22 percent, Marshall said.

The seat tax applied to establishments that sold more alcohol than food. As a result, some restaurants, pubs and bars were excluded from the seat tax and the cap, even if they hosted bands and dancing at night.

By increasing the cost of licenses, restaurants and any other establishments that sell alcohol will contribute to downtown patrols and citywide liquor enforcement.

In addition to the fee increases, the council decided that downtown bars with both alcohol and entertainment licenses must be at least 100 feet apart, door to door.

The distance rule applies to bars in the area between Franklin Arterial and State Street, and from Congress Street to the waterfront, Marshall said. It replaces the cap on nightclubs by focusing on any bars that provide entertainment, including restaurants that have bars and provide bands or recorded music for dancing.

Existing bars that violate this "dispersal rule" are grandfathered, but their licenses cannot be automatically transferred to new owners, he said.

The council also decided that patrons must be age 21 or older in bars with after-hours entertainment licenses, which allow them to stay open after 1 a.m., when state law mandates that alcohol service must stop. After-hours entertainment licenses previously allowed patrons age 18 and older.

"There's a lot of concern about 17- and 18-year-olds going into a bar with 30- and 40-year-olds at that time of night, whether or not alcohol is being served," Marshall said. In addition, patrons of after-hours establishments that don't serve alcohol, such as coffee houses, must be age 18 or older, he said.

The council voted 6-3 on ordinance changes related to the distance between bars and license fees, with councilors Cheryl Leeman, David Marshall and Kevin Donoghue opposed. The council voted 7-2 on the ordinance changes related to after-hours patrons, with councilors Suslovic and James Cloutier opposed.

Reaction among alcohol license holders was mixed.

"I think the council did a great job," said Doug Fuss, owner of Bull Feeney's Pub on Fore Street and chairman of the Nightlife Oversight Committee. "I'll have a license fee that's higher next year, but I'm glad to pay because I think it's fair and it makes sense."

Others believe that aiming the fee increase at businesses that sell alcohol, in the Old Port or elsewhere, is wrong. Some say the cost of liquor enforcement should be part of the regular police budget and shared by all taxpayers.

"I still believe it's a general-fund issue," said Steve DiMillo, an owner of DiMillo's Floating Restaurant on Commercial Street. "If it wasn't for these businesses, there wouldn't be an Old Port. We're already paying for police protection, and this cost should be part of that."

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:
kbouchard@pressherald.com

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