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Largo wise to loosen up— gingerly— on alcohol

Largo commissioners took steps last week to make alcohol more available — and perhaps less available — in that city. How could that be? It has been an interesting and lengthy process to watch.

The city has debated relaxing restrictions on alcohol sales in the city's redevelopment districts for a couple of years. In October, commissioners agreed that the tough restrictions could be eased downtown, where the city has struggled to spur redevelopment.

At their April 1 meeting, commissioners gave preliminary approval to an amendment to the alcohol ordinance in hopes of bringing more upscale restaurants and clubs downtown.

Currently, an establishment can sell beer, wine and liquor only if it has a state 4COP-SRX license. That license requires that the establishment make at least 51 percent of its sales from food.

Commissioners voted to delete the requirement that an establishment with a 4COP license sell at least 51 percent food. But the commission also approved a separation requirement of 150 feet between such establishments, which would prevent wall-to-wall bars downtown.

The commission made some other changes, too.

For example, the current code requires that establishments that sell alcohol be at least 300 feet from certain uses such as churches and schools. The commission added child care facilities to the list.

Also, the current code lists public facilities where alcohol is specifically allowed and others where the city manager can use his own discretion to allow or disallow alcohol. The commission removed Largo Central Park from the list of places where alcohol is specifically allowed, giving the city manager full authority to make the decision. Officials don't object to alcohol being served in Largo Central Park, but they want to retain the right to reject certain events that are not compatible with the city's interests.

However, commissioners appear less comfortable giving the city staff similar unfettered authority at the library.

At a discussion last month, Commissioner Rodney Woods said he wanted tighter controls on the sale and consumption of alcohol at the Largo Public Library. Alcohol may be served there now in the library's community room, usually at private parties, but Woods was concerned that visitors might consume alcohol while the library is open and children are nearby. Commissioner Mary Gray Black also was concerned. Both wanted the new ordinance to forbid consumption of alcohol during library operating hours.

Last month, other commissioners declined to include that provision, saying that management of those events could be left to the discretion of the city manager and library director. But Black and Woods brought the issue up again at the first reading of the ordinance last week and this time persuaded their colleagues to include the restriction.

The City Commission will vote one more time on the proposed ordinance before it becomes law, but commission support for the changes appears rock solid. Commissioners have been properly wary about loosening restrictions on downtown alcohol sales, fearing the creation of an Ybor City-like problem in Largo.

However, the reality is that some changes were needed to attract establishments that would create a livelier vibe downtown. With these provisions, and other actions in the past, city officials are doing everything they can to create an environment for commercial success in the city's redevelopment districts.

Largo wise to loosen up— gingerly— on alcohol 04/08/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 6:52pm]
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