News Column

City considering revisions to alcohol ordinance Age restrictions, licensing fees, to-go cup expansion concerns raised

September 2, 2014

By Eric Curl, Savannah Morning News, Ga.



Sept. 02--City officials are already reconsidering at least one restriction in a new alcohol ordinance, although there are plenty more proposals business owners and residents would like to see dropped.

A prohibition against anyone below 21 years old from dining in an alcohol-serving restaurant after 10 p.m., without a parent or legal guardian, appears to be the first victim of public sentiment since the ordinance was announced Friday.

There is an almost complete certainty the "10 p.m. rule" will be changed, said Sean Brandon, management services bureau chief.

"What form that takes, that will somewhat depend on what we hear from you," Brandon said.

Brandon's comments came at the start of the second meeting Tuesday at the Savannah Civic Center concerning the new rules governing alcohol sales, after the restriction had been repeatedly criticized during an earlier meeting that morning.

The news was welcomed, although many of the business owners, in addition to one college student, said they would like to see the city go a step further and reverse an existing prohibition against "minors" under 21 from entering bars that feature live music and other entertainment venues that serve alcohol.

Dollhouse Productions' owner Peter Mavrogeorgis said the restriction resulted in him having to turn away parents who brought their children to see a performance by musician Art Garfunkel at his West Savannah performance space.

"Art Garfunkel could only serve to bore them or enrich them," Mavrogeorgis said. "It just seems absurd."

Travis Coles, general manager of Club One, said Savannah is a college and military town and a bulk of the people in the city have nowhere to go because of the "archaic" rule. Coles suggested the city require a separate license if an establishment's owner wants to allow those who are 18-20 years old.

"If we screw up, yank that license," Coles said.

One license that is being proposed, which would be required to operate alcohol selling establishments after midnight, was deemed too costly and burdensome. The license, which would cost $150 for beer and wine and $300 to serve liquor, would replace a "Hybrid" license in place now that allows restaurants to transition into bars.

The license would impact more businesses, even if they do not provide entertainment, said Mike Vaquer, a lobbyist representing the Georgia Restaurant Association.

"This proposal is far too broad," Vaquer said.

Savannah-Chatham Police Lt. David Gay said the license is not a revenue generating tool, but a regulatory tool that can be stripped from a problematic establishment. The license and security requirements are also a reflection of the amount of resources devoted to policing during that time, Gay said.

Some owners said they were already paying to support police services with current license fees.

There were differing opinions within the industry on some of the proposals, such as the elimination of a requirement that servers obtain bar cards from the city.

Some saw the bar cards as a way to obtain quality employees, while others thought of it as a burden the city couldn't keep up with. The purpose of the cards was also questioned due to the fact no servers have had their cards taken by Chatham County Recorder's Court for a violation, according to city officials.

Training requirements would be kept in place, however, with the responsibility on the business owner to make sure employees comply and that certification is available upon request.

Some owners took issue with current laws not being enforced.

Brian Curry, owner of Jazz'd Tapas Bar, said more punitive measures need to be taken against under-age drinkers after his failed attempts to get police and the court system to prosecute minors who provide fake IDs and altered state licenses.

"There are no repercussions for the kids," Curry said. "My bartenders are the ones that are going to face the bullet."

Business owners were not the only ones taking interest in the proposed changes.

A couple of residents spoke out against the proposed expansion to Forsyth Park of the "to-go cup" zone, where pedestrians can carry 16-ounce cups of alcohol. Bob Rosenwald said he was concerned the area would become trashed and the city's image would be damaged.

"Just because people are doing it doesn't mean you capitulate," Rosenwald said.

Brandon said that the meetings on Tuesday were the beginning of a process to evaluate the ordinance, which will also include drop-in sessions on Sept. 18 for business owners to talk to city officials individually.

Revisions are expected to be made as a result of the feedback, Brandon said.

"There is no timeline," he said. "We do this until we have something that makes the community better."

___

(c)2014 Savannah Morning News (Savannah, Ga.)

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Source: Savannah Morning News (GA)


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