Long-awaited changes that will set new regulations for live entertainment in the city have been postponed by the City Council after constituent groups raised new concerns.
City officials will now revisit the changes and plan to introduce them in January.
The city has for years struggled with how best to balance the growth of its nightlife scene with the needs of residents – some of whom welcome the lively atmosphere that comes with living in a thriving urban community, some of whom have complaints about noise and issues that stem from the city’s bars and restaurants. The city is now trying to strike a compromise.
‘Eleven o’clock seems to be the sticking point.’ – William Gaughan
At a Dec. 5 meeting among restaurant owners, neighborhood associations, and staff from the city’s Department of Housing, Economic Development, and Commerce, much of the discussion centered around proposed decibel levels for live entertainment. At this past Wednesday’s City Council meeting, however, concerns about entertainment hours convinced the council to postpone a formal introduction of the entertainment ordinance.
If the proposed changes are approved, restaurants and bars will for the first time be able to obtain an entertainment license that will allow them to host live performances. Under the most recent draft of the ordinance, restaurants would have to end their live entertainment at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays and at 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people. Eleven o’clock seems to be the sticking point,” said Ward D Councilman William Gaughan, who said he has received a “tremendous” number of calls about this ordinance. “Most establishments that I’ve spoken to, and even some community groups, feel that 11 is too soon to cut off entertainment. In some places, the entertainment doesn’t even start until 9:30.”
Resident and professional DJ Anthony Susco suggested these hours weren’t realistic and he predicted that restaurants would try to skirt the law – as some do already – to keep their entertainment going later.
Calling the current draft of the ordinance “well-intentioned” and “very close” to what the council will probably ultimately pass, Ward E Councilman Steven Fulop asked whether the ordinance could be tabled until January. He asked that the city continue to get more input from community groups and business owners so the final law includes hours “people can live with.”
“This has been a work in the making for over five years. This has been something that multiple council members and [municipal] staff have been involved in,” responded Carl Czaplicki, director of the Department of Housing, Economic Development, and Commerce. “If we have to change or tweak the hours, then so be it. But to leave it open and to leave it questionable in the last few days of December [is problematic].”
Czaplicki urged the council to introduce the ordinance Wednesday, then resolve concerns about the hours before the public hearing in January. He was particularly concerned about getting the ordinance introduced this month and passed in January because restaurant, nightclub, and bar licenses come up for renewal with the Department of Commerce in February 2012. (These licenses are separate from liquor licenses approved by the Alcoholic Beverage Control board.) Czaplicki wanted to ensure that the new entertainment laws – and the new license fees they’ll generate – were in place ahead of the February renewal date.
But the council voted unanimously to table the ordinance until January after Corporation Counsel Bill Matsikoudis noted that adjusting the hours in the law constituted a substantial change to the ordinance and Business Administrator Jack Kelly said the administration had no problems with postponing the introduction.
Community groups that attended the meeting supported the decision.
“We’re very supportive of what the city is trying to do. We want entertainment in our neighborhood. We think it’s an exciting place to live,” Stephen Musgrave, president of the Harsimus Cove Association, told the Reporter. “Since we have some concerns about whether the city will be able to adequately enforce this, we say, why not set the entertainment hours earlier [rather than later]? Then, if things seem to be working out okay, later on we can consider extending them. We think it’s easier to do it that way than the other way around.”
E-mail E. Assata Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Food cart changes also tabled
At Wednesday’s meeting, the City Council also tabled a food establishment ordinance that could set new limits on food trucks in the city.
Trucks would be required to operate at least 200 feet from restaurants and other food trucks. The amendment also sets allowable hours of operation and eight zones within the city where low-end food truck vendors cannot operate. (In these eight zones, higher end gourmet food trucks may eventually be permitted to operate, but will have to pay higher license fees to do so.)
The proposed amendment, if passed, will require all food cart operators to acquire a license from the city, which must be renewed each year. The license fee would be $300 in 2012 and would increase by $100 each year until the annual fee hits $500 in 2014. Vendors would also be required to pay a $50 medallion fee.
Applicants for the food cart license would also have to submit to a criminal background check, which may include fingerprinting. The purpose of the background check, which will cost the applicant another $75, is to alert the city of any recent felony convictions an applicant may have.
Food trucks would be banned from using city streets to operate their businesses, although they would be able to sit on some sidewalks and in plazas, such as Grove Plaza and the area outside the Exchange PATH station.
Members of the City Council said last month these changes are necessary to protect public health and safety. But food cart operators argued these changes unfairly subject them to burdens not placed on restaurants. – EAW
‘Truth in Parking’ clears first road bump
On Wednesday the council voted unanimously to introduce Councilman Steven Fulop’s “Truth in Parking” ordinance.
The ordinance is an amendment to city parking rules that, if passed, would require that prospective renters and condo buyers are told upfront about parking restrictions in the neighborhood.
Specifically, the amendment will require that landlords and real estate agents inform prospective renters or buyers that on-street residential parking may not be available in their neighborhoods, and other parking options may require additional fees.
Under the amendments, prospective tenants and buyers will be notified in writing of parking circumstances in their building and community, and sign a form in acknowledgement.
The City Council unanimously approved a similar measure in December 2009. The amendment was, however, vetoed by Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy.
Fulop’s amendment will now come up for a public hearing and final vote at the council’s next meeting in January. – EAW