TAMPA — The City Council on Thursday decided to wait until next spring to explore whether to overhaul how it handles alcohol-related zoning decisions.
The council has talked about the issue on and off since shootings at two Ybor City-area bars nearly three years ago.
Thursday's vote to postpone further discussion came after the council learned that 1,353 businesses — from bars and restaurants to grocery, convenience and drug stores — have some kind of city land-use permit to sell alcohol. Of those, 141 are in Ybor City, 112 are downtown or in the Channel District, and 40 are along S Howard Avenue.
But over the last two years, city officials, working with police, the fire marshal or the state, have launched investigations into just 10 of those businesses over potential violations of their city permission to sell alcohol. Three received letters of violation, and one ended up before the City Council, which suspended its permit.
Separately, about 90 restaurants a year receive city notices for failing to submit reports showing that food accounts for more of their sales than alcohol, but officials say nearly all end up coming into compliance.
"It's a relatively small number of bad actors who are causing problems," Council member Lisa Montelione said. "For the most part it seems that the system is working."
For months, Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin has lobbied for a new approach to regulating businesses that serve drinks in the city. In December, she backed a two-part proposal that generally would have rolled back bar closing times from 3 a.m. to midnight, and then created a new business-regulation permit that would have allowed businesses to stay open to 3 a.m. The advantage of the business permit was that it would have allowed the city to revoke the permit if a bar tolerated violent crime, under-aged drinking or drug possession on its premises — something that land-use rules do not authorize.
The council backed away from that idea in the face of widespread business opposition in December, but Capin has persisted. On Thursday, council members voted 4-3, with Capin, Mike Suarez and Mary Mulhern voting no, to take a break from the subject until next April, a month after City Council elections.
Despite the pause on general regulations, council member Harry Cohen said he plans to return to council later this summer with ideas to address a series of individual issues, like parking, that combine to create problems for residents who live near S Howard Avenue's crowded, noisy bar scene.
"It's not any one thing that is making the situation on Howard Avenue difficult," Cohen said, adding that there's no one "magic bullet." Instead, he said he thinks it would be better to "attack this by going at these individual problems and chipping away at them."
Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, [email protected] or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.