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City Council OKs alcohol at downtown Longview plaza

By Jimmy Isaac
Sept. 22, 2011 at 10 p.m.

Permitted alcohol use at Heritage Plaza was approved Thursday, but not without time constraints brought forth in a councilman's surprise move.

City Council members voted 5-1 to allow alcohol sales and consumption at the downtown park. In another move, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board members will begin Monday a months-long process to set criteria for all Longview parks, after one resident suggested expanding alcohol use to Teague Park.

Don't take a six-pack to the Heritage Plaza brown bag lunch series just yet. Organizers of the series and any event wishing to serve alcoholic beverages must obtain permits from the city and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

After 20 minutes of discussion in which it appeared, at times, that the ordinance would fail to get council approval, District 4 Councilman Wayne Frost introduced an amended ordinance that limited permitted alcohol use at Heritage Plaza to 5 p.m. until 11 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays and 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Assistant to the City Manager Mary Ann Miller said Frost asked city staff this past week to prepare a draft of his amendment, but officials with the Longview Chamber of Commerce, who recommended the Heritage Plaza change, said the amendment caught them off-guard.

Councilman John Sims, who earlier in the meeting said he would not support alcohol use at local parks, seconded Frost's motion to approve the amended ordinance.

"I personally think we have enough drinking going on in Longview. I am against this," Sims said about 15 minutes before voting for allowing alcohol use with scheduling limits. He did not explain why he changed his vote.

District 2 Councilman Daryl Williams was the lone vote against the measure, though he earlier had said it was unfair to the chamber officials to hold up the request.

Longview Chamber of Commerce and the Main Street Advisory Board recommended the idea to parks advisory board members two months ago. On Aug. 22, the parks board unanimously recommended the ordinance change to the City Council.

"I think it is something Longview has needed to look at for a long time," resident Randy Maines said. Maines also suggested the city consider allowing permitted alcohol sales and consumption at Teague Park. Community Services Director Laura Hill said a local group of residents can petition the parks board for such a change through the policy that chamber officials followed.

Hill researched 43 Texas cities and found that most have set criteria that determines which of their recreational facilities should allow permitted alcohol use or other measures. Frost suggested that before Longview council members consider alcohol allowance at Heritage Plaza that they consider having a similar ordinance change at Lear Park, where children and families meet and compete in sports tournaments and games.

That led council members to ask Hill and parks board members to come up with a set of criteria to help the City Council make decisions regarding Longview parks. It will be a topic of discussion when the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meets at noon Monday at the Development Services building, 416 S. High St.

The change to Heritage Plaza might mean a change to the AlleyFest campus this spring. The annual festival in downtown Longview has never included Heritage Plaza, though AlleyFest patrons have walked over the park at times with their beers illegally, council members said. With street construction planned for at least three downtown streets in the coming five years, Heritage Plaza likely will be added to the festival grounds.

"This is only for permitted activity," Manley reminded residents. "I can't just plop down (at Heritage Plaza) with a six pack of beer."

Longview Chamber of Commerce Vice-President Paul Anderson said the hours limiting alcohol sales and consumption at Heritage Plaza were unexpected but does not change the group's plans for attracting more events to downtown.

"It is not something we would have thought or planned to put in there, but if it is something that the council feels more comfortable with, we're for it," Anderson said.

In another matter, council members denied AEP Southwestern Electric Power Co.'s application for a new tariff on Longview customers' bills to help the company pay for a coal-fired power plant under construction near Hope, Ark. City Attorney Jim Finley said the denial was necessary to allow the city to review details of SWEPCO's application to the Public Utility Commission of Texas.

Manley and Mayor Jay Dean cautioned residents that their vote was not a reflection of the community's opinion of the utility company, which wants to raise more than $110 million during the next two years from its 181,000 Texas customers.

"This is just part of the process," Dean said. "What you see here (in the application) is going to change once it gets to Austin and the PUC."



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