Downtown entertainment district could allow bars closer to schools/churches

2014-04-07T00:00:00Z Downtown entertainment district could allow bars closer to schools/churchesBy Yoohyun Jung For the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The city wants to create a downtown entertainment district that would allow an exemption for businesses to apply for liquor licenses even if they are less than 300 feet away from a school or church.

The Greater Downtown Entertainment District would mostly cover areas along the streetcar route with potential for future development, according to Camila Bekat, economic development specialist for the city.

“As we look to revitalize downtown, we want to make sure that we can create opportunities for redevelopment,” Bekat said. “And by removing this restriction, we are allowing different uses and essentially supporting the creation of a full-service downtown.”

The proposal comes four years after the Arizona Legislature passed a law making designations of such entertainment districts permissible. City attorney Mike Rankin already has verified that the city’s proposal meets the requirements of the state law, Bekat said.

The City Council will discuss plans for the district next month.

Some residents in the proposed boundaries of the entertainment district are not enthused about the proposed exemption.

Mike White, president of the Iron Horse Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood is pretty evenly split between those who support and those who oppose the change.

The Iron Horse neighborhood stretches from North Fourth Avenue to North Euclid Avenue and from East Broadway north to East Eighth Street.

Some landlords in the neighborhood are concerned that the entertainment district designation would mean more noise from bars near Tucson High School.

The neighborhood is very dense and active with traffic from bar-goers and students going to the high school, he said.

“People already pay a high enough price,” he said.

The current process works just fine, said John Daniel Twelker, a resident of the Iron Horse neighborhood.

Although the Iron Horse Neighborhood Association has supported new bars in the neighborhood in the past, he said there is no need to “make it easier for more bars to open.”

Even without the exemption, plenty of bars have opened in the area, he said.

An exemption from the 300-foot rule does not mean businesses can skip any part of the process of obtaining liquor licenses, Bekat said. They must meet the other requirements.

“It doesn’t change the underlying zoning,” she said. “It doesn’t change the allowed use, so the person would have to have the proper zoning.”

The exemption would be granted on a case-by-case basis solely at the discretion of the City Council.

City High School, on East Pennington Street between North Scott and Stone avenues, is right in the heart of the proposed entertainment district. Carrie Brennan, the high school’s principal and executive director, said she supports the proposal.

“The 300 feet is a really archaic, limiting law,” she said.

She said she does not think there would be negative impacts on student safety from the proposed exemption. Students at the high school need to learn how to navigate in an urban environment, she added.

“Downtown looks different from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. than it does 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., then from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.,” she said.

If something were to happen that threatens the safety of City High School students, Brennan said business owners in the area would also be upset and collaborate to find a solution.

Yoohyun Jung is a University of Arizona journalism student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at starapprentice@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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