Updated Thu, Jul 3, 2014 5:11 pm
Allowing alcohol to be consumed on the Nelsonville Public Square and increasing the price of special event permits were topics of discussion during a meeting of Nelsonville City Council’s Planning and Development Committee this week.
On June 23, Nelsonville Chamber of Commerce board member Miki Brooks approached City Council about the possibility of allowing alcohol — such as beer and wine — to be consumed during special events on the Public Square, specifically the Ohio Smoked Meat and Barbecue Festival. There were mixed reactions from Council members regarding the proposal and the topic was forwarded to the Planning and Development Committee for further discussion.
On Tuesday, the committee met in joint session with the city’s planning commission and Council’s Judiciary Committee.
Currently, consuming alcohol is prohibited on the Square, however it can be consumed on private property such as the parking lot owned by Stuart’s Opera House. Brooks has said that allowing people to drink beer while attending the Smoked Meat Festival could allow for the event to grow and attract more visitors to the city.
However, Councilman Greg Smith stated that many residents are opposed to the idea of allowing alcohol on the Square. He said that he believes such a proposal would lead to underage drinking as policing events for alcohol violations would be too taxing on the city’s police department.
Smith said he’s not opposed to alcohol being served in a contained area, such as the Stuart’s parking lot, that would only be open to those 21 and over. He said he didn’t see the need for people to walk around with alcohol and that he didn’t know of any festival in which such activity takes place.
Councilwoman Linda Watkins interjected, stating that Athens’ Boogie on the Bricks festival — which was held June 21 — is an example that’s close to home where people are permitted to drink in the street. Boogie on the Bricks is a free, family friendly music festival held on Court Street.
One audience member said she could see both sides of the argument, but stated that she thought Boogie on the Bricks is mostly attended by Ohio University students and that Nelsonville is more of a family oriented community.
Nelsonville Police Chief Jason Wallace said that the Nelsonville Music Festival is an example of a happy medium in which alcohol is permitted. He said that the alcohol permit has to be first approved by the state and then he is asked to sign off on it.
“If they don’t hire us or other officers, they’re responsible for security,” Wallace said. He said he agreed with Smith that a large public event with alcohol would be overtaxing for his department to enforce. He said he would support the idea of having a closed-off area such as a beer tent in which only those of legal drinking age are admitted.
Nelsonville Code Enforcement Director Steve Pierson — who used to serve in the same role for the city of Athens — said that Athens City Council approved a series of ordinances for special events such as Boogie on the Bricks and the Halloween Block Party to establish a glass-free drinking zone and suspend its noise ordinance during festivities. He said that groups wanting to put on special events have to approach City Council well in advance to get such ordinances in place. He said each event is approved individually by Council.
There was also discussion on Tuesday about increasing the cost of special event permits. Pierson said permits currently cost $25. He said the cost was set at $5 in 1999 and was increased to its current rate sometime before 2005. In 2005, the special events ordinance was also amended to prohibit alcohol from being consumed on city sidewalks and streets.
Nelsonville City Manager Mark Hall said that special events on the Public Square require city workers to place barricades on the street to block motor vehicles. He said small events such as Final Friday — the city’s monthly arts celebration — require two city workers to place and remove barricades around the Square. He said it typically takes 30 minutes to set up the barricades and another 30 minutes to remove them. At an average pay of $16.50 per hour and the cost to use a truck to transport the barricades, Hall said it costs the city an average of $53 per event. He said larger events — such as the Ohio Smoked Meat and Barbecue Festival — cost the city $106. He added that if any barricades are destroyed or stolen, those cost the city an additional $20 to replace.
On Thursday, Pierson told The Messenger that he has drafted an amendment to the special events ordinance that would increase the permit cost to $50. The amendment would also implement a bonding requirement and insert language that would allow Council to approve proposals by groups to serve alcohol in confined areas.
Pierson said that Council could decide to give authority to city administrators to approve such alcohol requests or vote on requests as a Council. Pierson said he would recommend that alcohol requests be brought to Council for approval rather than the administration, which is what the city of Athens does.
No Nelsonville Chamber of Commerce representatives were present during Tuesday’s Planning and Development Committee meeting. Committee Chairman Terry Koons said he’d like to see Chamber representatives attend the next meeting, which he hopes to schedule before Nelsonville Council meets on July 28.