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City may try again on park drink law

(ran PW, PS editions)

A second attempt at allowing alcohol sales might apply only to a small park. Some residents warn that even that move will face a fight.

The ordinance allowing the sale and consumption of alcohol in all the city's parks that died Tuesday night could be resurrected in the form of a narrower ordinance that would allow sales only in the city's Cavalaire Square pocket park.

And if the more restrictive law passes, it still could be killed by voters in an April election.

The City Council's initial ordinance, crafted in response to a request by a group charged with promoting downtown, would have allowed drinking in designated areas, required a wristband for purchases, set a three-drink limit and restricted hours when alcohol could be served.

Those safeguards and the additional limitation of sales to Cavalaire Park pleased some of the residents who mounted a petition drive and forced Tuesday's repeal of the initial ordinance. But Wednesday, others remain skeptical.

"We feel like the city made a conscious effort to change what we were in objection to," said Don Kirby, who with his wife, Sharon, helped collect the signatures that forced repeal of the broader ordinance. "(The compromise ordinance) might not be everything, but I'm not in any way opposed to continuing just on the issue of Cavalaire Park."

"What we don't know is exactly how they will word things in the next one they pass or attempt to pass," he said. "I'm sure Sims Park will be deleted from the upcoming ordinance, which was the main thrust of my objections.

"Personally I'm quite satisfied," he added. "I think you'll find some people opposed to it, but how much opposition they're willing to put up, I don't know."

If Rod McKellen's position is any indication, those wanting to block any alcohol sales plan to put up quite a fight. He warned council members Tuesday about the hidden costs of "going into the liquor business," and told the Times on Wednesday that people would likely rally to protect the city's character.

"If Mr. and Ms. New Port Richey understand that the tranquility of their city that revolves around a historic downtown and the small Orange Lake _ if they believe that's in jeopardy, they'll turn out," he said. "They had a pretty good turnout for (discussion of) the first ordinance. . . . If people saw it, I believe they would turn out for the hearings and for the referendum."

Residents will get to voice their opinions again on the alcohol issue in two public hearings once city staff craft an ordinance saying alcohol can only be sold by nonprofit groups in Cavalaire Square.

Council members on Tuesday proposed narrowing the ordinance on a trial basis. Then voters could either vote it down or choose to expand it in April. Council members were unsure whether that vote would take the form of a straw poll or a referendum.

But Jeff Lucas, who helped coordinate the petition drive and spoke against the alcohol measure, said he placed the most importance on assurances that voters would have the final say on the alcohol issue. He thought that should have happened even before a trial period was established.

"I think the gist of what the majority of people wanted was to let it go to the voters before it was enacted," he said. "I think it's a long way from being resolved."

_ Times staff writer Beth Glenn can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6229 or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6229. Her e-mail address is glennsptimes.com.

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