News Column

Rowdy downtown Restaurant owners: Disorderly behavior downtown not caused by entertainment

May 22, 2014

By Jen Bondeson, The Frederick News-Post, Md.

May 22--Owners of downtown Frederick restaurants told city officials Wednesday that live entertainment is not the cause of disorderly behavior in downtown's late-night scene -- it's how individual businesses are being managed.

Mayor Randy McClement and the Board of Aldermen continued their discussion Wednesday about how to change the city's rules for restaurants with late-night entertainment.

City police, the county's liquor board, the city appeals board and the Downtown Frederick Partnership have been talking about how to create and better enforce rules for these businesses and address behavior problems with patrons.

A few suggestions from the city's planning staff include requiring restaurants with late-night entertainment to apply for a license with specific rules attached, allowing city police to instantly issue a citation to restaurants that are breaking the rules, and giving the zoning board more consistent guidelines to follow when making rules for the restaurants, but also more flexibility.

The county's liquor board currently allows entertainment until 1:30 a.m. Restaurants must close by 2 a.m. But the city's zoning board has set different rules for how long individual businesses may have entertainment.

City rules also require restaurants that have entertainment to meet certain strict requirements. For example, they must be a certain distance away from residential properties. The zoning board should be given flexibility to waive the rules, city staff said.

Three downtown business owners told the officials Wednesday that they are already faced with many fees, licenses and regulations. They don't want more.

Kara Norman, executive director of the Downtown Frederick Partnership, said she wants the discussion to spur positive changes to the city's processes.

As an arts-and-entertainment district, Frederick should make it easier and more attractive for businesses to have live entertainment, Norman said.

City aldermen said they were interested in changing the city's processes so they are more clear and navigable, but they were not interested in imposing new rules on businesses that are already approved for entertainment and that aren't causing problems.

Amber DeMorett, owner of Bushwaller's, told the officials that live entertainment is not causing the problems downtown.

"I think it is the restaurants themselves," she said.

Bushwaller's has had live entertainment for more than 30 years and few issues, DeMorett said.

DeMorett said people should expect a certain level of noise living downtown, and all businesses shouldn't be punished by a problem a few businesses are causing.

Alderwoman Kelly Russell said she doesn't want to blame business for the problems. It's the behavior of patrons, she said.

Alderman Josh Bokee said he thinks the city should review the city's ordinance that restricts excessive use of police resources. That ordinance imposes fees on property owners that have had a certain number of police calls to their address in a certain time period.

Russell said that ordinance kicks in only after there have been several incidents. The city needs something that is an instant penalty for an incident, she said.

Phil Bowers, owner of several downtown restaurants, said he agreed with DeMorett that residents should expect a certain level of disturbance, living downtown.

"It's very true, if you are to move next to a hog farm, you are going to have flies," Bowers said, "and if you move downtown, you are probably going to have noise, so there should be some flexibility there."

Follow Jen Bondeson on Twitter: @Jen_Bondeson.


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Source: Frederick News-Post (MD)

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