- Last Call shooting suspect arrested (02-16-08)
- Owner pulls plug on Last Call (02-14-08)
- City puts nightclub talks on fast track (02-14-08)
- City weighs futures of Last Call, downtown (02-12-08)
- City to explore regulating bars on 'disorderly business' basis (08-15-07)
- State indicates willingness to help Lawrence with problems at bars (08-14-07)
Last Call wasn't the last straw - at least not when it comes to creating a new licensing system for city bars and nightclubs.
City commissioners Tuesday evening largely balked at the idea of requiring drinking establishments to receive special city licenses or permits in an effort to prevent future violence like the incidents that occurred at the former downtown club Last Call.
Instead, commissioners said they wanted staff members to explore creating a new city law - called a "disorderly business" ordinance. The new law would compel businesses that are the site of significant amounts of criminal activity to meet with city staff members to come up with a plan to abate the problems or face criminal charges that could result in a fine of up to $2,500 per day.
The new nuisance ordinance is different than what staff members had recommended. They had recommended a pair of new city-controlled licensing and permit processes that would allow the city to act quickly in cases where an establishment was creating a consistent threat to public safety.
A majority of commissioners, however, were cool to the idea.
"I think this would create something pretty broad that could be used rather punitively," City Commissioner Rob Chestnut said of a proposed entertainment venue licensing system and proposed changes to the city's zoning laws regarding drinking establishments. "It would give us a lot of broad power that would be concerning to me as a business owner."
But all five commissioners expressed at least some degree of interest in the new disorderly business ordinance. The new law would be modeled after the city's disorderly house ordinance, which forces landlords and tenants to meet with the city if their house is frequently involved in noise complaints or other criminal activity. Commissioners said they liked the new idea because it wouldn't require well-run drinking establishments to go through any extra processes.
"When we look at a licensing system, I felt like it would create an additional level of bureaucracy for businesses, and that is something I didn't want to do," said Commissioner Mike Amyx, who proposed the disorderly business idea.
Several bar owners spoke out against the idea of an entertainment venue license or changes that would require drinking establishments to receive a special use permit under the city's zoning laws. Owners said they worried future political leaders could use the licensing system in the wrong ways to punish bars, nightclubs, restaurants and other places that serve alcohol.
Ted Boyle, president of the North Lawrence Improvement Association, said he supported the proposed license system because the city currently lacks a quick way to deal with problem establishments.
Exact details of how new disorderly business ordinance would work need to be developed. But in a proposal put forth by Amyx, he envisioned that the ordinance would kick in after three "triggering events" in a 365-day period. What those triggering events would be needs to be discussed, he said. But the ordinance could be written broadly to include any felony or misdemeanor that occurs on the site or within 50 feet of the site, if it can be proven that the crime was committed by a patron of the establishment.
Amyx, though, said no businesses should be charged with violating the disorderly business law until they have first been given a chance to adopt an "abatement plan" developed in consultation with city staff members. If they refuse to adopt the abatement plan, the establishment could be charged with being a disorderly business and face significant fines.
Several bar owners said shortly after Tuesday's meeting that they hadn't had a chance to review the details of the proposed ordinance. Amyx made the idea public only a few hours prior to Tuesday's meeting.
None of the commissioners Tuesday expressed support for requiring drinking establishments to get a special use permit under the city's zoning code.
The idea of an entertainment venue license was slightly more popular. Mayor Sue Hack said she wanted staff members to be prepared to revive that proposal if the disorderly business ordinance failed to materialize.