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Tampa to explore Ybor alcohol zoning moratorium

Twenty years ago, Ybor City was a historic district with a heart but no pulse.

These days, it throbs on weekend nights as partiers hop from bar to bar. That has prompted city leaders to take a look at how much alcohol is flowing through the district's crowds.

Tampa City Council voted Thursday to explore the possibility of having a moratorium on new wet zonings for Ybor businesses that are not restaurants, and tightening the rules on extending liquor licenses for properties when businesses close.

Council member Shawn Harrison raised the moratorium prospect at last week's City Council meeting, but he got no support from the other three council members in attendance.

He said Thursday that they misunderstood his motion. He had proposed researching the option of a moratorium, not imposing one immediately, he said.

Council member Linda Saul-Sena, who was absent from last week's meeting, raised the issue again Thursday. This time, with all seven council members present, support was unanimous.

City officials will report to council members in the coming weeks on the moratorium and wet zoning extensions.

"We want staff to come up with some creative ideas to assist us in taking some of the booze out of Ybor," council member John Dingfelder said last week. "We have to figure out a way to limit future wet zonings and take away the wet zonings that aren't being used."

According to city officials, of the 593 businesses in Ybor City, 103 have zonings permitting alcohol sales.

City land development manager Thom Snelling said it's time to revisit the laws regulating wet zonings in Ybor City. "There are significant flaws in the code that allow things to happen that I don't think people intended," Snelling said.

For example, he said, to spur development, the City Council several years ago changed the code to loosen restrictions on how close bars in entertainment districts can be to each other. The code adjustments caused Ybor to become a drinking mecca.

"Obviously, this council wants to try and dry it up a little bit," Dingfelder said after Thursday's vote.