A slimmer version of a proposal to expand the City of Omaha's authority over liquor establishments won approval of the City Council on Tuesday.
Led by Councilman Pete Festersen, the council eliminated two major components from what was a three-pronged plan to use city zoning laws to exert more control over troublesome liquor retailers.
An amendment sponsored by Festersen deleted a proposed $75 fee for all liquor license holders and cut provisions that would have given the council sweeping regulatory powers.
The council left intact language that requires liquor retailers to comply with a set of “nuisance prevention standards,” or face the suspension or revocation of their building's occupancy certificate.
Retailers that violate the ordinance's nuisance provisions — which include illegal drug activity, excessive noise or violence — would be targeted under procedures that normally address weeds, litter or noise.
If a retailer was warned to get rid of a nuisance by city code inspectors, but didn't do so in a reasonable amount of time, council members could take action against an occupancy certificate.
Festersen said his amendments preserved the proposal's most important tool to combat problems with certain liquor retailers. The five other council members who voted with him agreed.
“We may have trimmed down the fangs a little bit and made it a little more presentable and a little more palatable,” Councilman Garry Gernandt said. “But I don't think we've reduced the teeth in this ordinance.”
The original proposal, introduced after months of lobbying from neighborhood representatives concerned with problem bars and other Omaha retailers, would have allowed for the creation of “alcohol impact districts.”
Alcohol retailers within these areas could have been subject to special conditions, including specific business hours for alcohol sales or regulations on a building's signs or entrances.
Such provisions were the subject of fierce opposition from many area liquor retailers and the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.
“There's no doubt progress was made today,” said Chris Foster, a spokesman for the Local Campaign, a group of concerned neighborhood groups. “Yet, at the same time, we recognize that the ordinance doesn't go far enough.”
Foster said the group would make sure the public nuisance standards can be enforced.
Councilman Ben Gray, who led neighborhood groups' charge for the original proposal, was the sole vote against the amended ordinance.
“I know it's disappointing,” he said to residents who watched Tuesday's council vote. “But you did push through an additional tool that this city can use to address problem establishments. It's not what you wanted, it's not what I wanted, but that's the process of democracy.”
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