Update: Council Changes Rules for Problem Bars

Posted October 2

The Omaha City Council gave more local control to the city when it comes to nuisance complaints against those who hold a liquor license. Some say the new rules are watered down.

We have seen this scenario happen plenty of times. The city of Omaha treats problems of weeds and litter as a nuisance.

Now, the same approach will be taken against troubled bars -- nightclubs -- restaurants -- and liquor stores.

There were two things left out of this plan when compared to the original proposal.

The owner of Beercade in Benson is pleased the $75 annual fee and impact zone were dropped from the new rules, so as to not lump in the good bars with the bad.
John larkin: "People are saying the teeth have been taken away," said John Larkin. "The teeth is taking away the certificate of occupancy. There is a nuisance standard you have to follow and the city council can take away your right to operate."

The reason there were any changes at all came from a big neighborhood push.

In one example -- it took years to close down a bad neighbor near 65th and Ames Avenue.

One homeowner who recorded her own evidence in 2003 -- spoke last week before the council.

Sharon Chvala: "I am the face of a neighborhood that's been torn down by a liquor establishment that took years to be shut down..."

Chvala tells Channel Six News she approves of the changes -- especially since the zoning portion was kept in the ordinance. "It's wonderful. I would still be in my house if these rules were in place then." Chvala and her family had moved away from the troubled bar.

"This is a substantial new tool for our neighborhood," said city council member Pete Festersen, who introduced the different version.

He understands why some groups who worked for years to get more local control are disappointed that it isn't exactly what they want. But he stresses -- never again will it take years to address a bad neighbor. "Now with more authority, we could presumably repeal a license within 30 days and shut down a business that was causing problems for the neighborhood."

It works like this -- the carrot keeping a bar open right now is the liquor license and the state holds the cards there.

With the new rule -- a city can go after problem bars with the occupancy permit.

Posted September 5

After much debate from the public, the Omaha planning board on Wednesday gave its recommendation to more local control when it comes to nuisance bars.

"You see, I'm a victim of underage drunk driving," said Anthony Cato as he addressed the board. He shared his personal story of a crash five years ago and how it can impact a community. "To ask a business to be more responsible, to be more caring about the community they're involved with, I don't think that's too much to ask."

We've seen it many times over the years -- police are called to break-up an unruly crowd. The liquor license is called into question, but the process can take months -- even years to resolve -- if it all.

The new rules would target the zoning permits instead of liquor licenses. It turn, it would force quicker changes to the business if the problems persist.

"In the past, we had thought the state would take care of it," said Molly Romero of Marks Bistro in Dundee, "but I think the local, city and police need to have the power to do that."

The changes -- if approved by the city council -- would affect more than 1,400 liquor license holders. Each one would have to pay $75 a year to run the program.

Opponents don't see why every liquor license holder has to be painted with the same brush.

"The exceptions make the rules and it's always a bad way to legislate," said Jim Moylan, counsel for the Nebraska Licensed Beverage Association.

"The problems we are trying to address can and should be fixed by means other than a new law that imposes harsh restrictions on many good citizens," said Joseph Young, director of public policy for Omaha Chamber:

The Omaha city council will have the final say. It's expected the proposal will come before the members later this month.

Posted September 4

How can the city of Omaha give itself more power by going after problem bars? The Planning Board holds a public hearing today to examine a new approach that would take on those bars through zoning regulations, not liquor laws.

"We want to have more say where these liquor licenses can locate and how you can quickly address a problem business before it becomes out of control," said Margie Magnuson with the Impact Coalition, who has been working for years on giving more power back to the people. "Chicago has done it. Baltimore has done it. And just recently Waterloo, Iowa."

Bars need two things to operate. The liquor license -- and a certificate of occupancy.

"Selling alcohol does not give you an exemption from being a good neighbor," said deputy city attorney Tom Mumgaard

Under the proposal spearheaded by Council members Ben Gray and Chris Jerram after neighborhood groups approached them, the city could target the occupancy permit of nuisance businesses who sell alcohol, and not the liquor license, over which the state also has control.

"People have no problem regulating auto body shops -- regulating industry -- and other type of land use that bother their neighbors," said Mumgaard.

A public hearing on this topic before the Planning Board takes place Wednesday at 1:30pm at the Legislative Chamber inside city hall at 18th & Farnam.

The proposal would also have all liquor license holders -- some 1,400 of them -- to pay $75 to help operate the program.

Some bars owners have told Channel 6 News -- they think that is just another fee on their business. Others have said they're happy to pay if they know everyone will be held to the new, higher standard.

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