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Council looks at alcohol sales at Longview parks

By Jimmy Isaac jisaac@news-journal.com
Sept. 26, 2011 at 11 p.m.

One down, 34 to go.

Less than a week after the city council expanded alcohol sales and consumption at one Longview park, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board began Monday what could be an extended process to determine which other parks may be wet.

As Community Services Director Laura Hill put it, "This has the potential to be a complicated process."

Board Chairman Les Rickett formed an ad-hoc committee of himself and board member Rhonda Bullard that will examine Longview's nearly three dozen parks and recreation facilities. He asked other board members to submit their suggestions by email to him over the next week, and the ad-hoc committee will examine each park or facility, whether it could accommodate permitted alcohol usage and board members' concerns.

On Thursday, city council members amended city ordinance to allow alcohol consumption or sales at Heritage Plaza in downtown. Longview Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Advisory Board members requested the change to accommodate events such as weddings, receptions or AlleyFest to allow alcohol with, and only with, prior approval from the City of Longview and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. Any event without both permits that has alcoholic beverages will be "shut down" by police, Hill said.

"These are strictly special events where they would go through the whole process," parks board member Ronnie Rice said.

Before their vote Thursday, council members asked the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board to form criteria that governs which parks should be considered for similar changes, after one resident suggested that allowing alcohol at Teague Park would encourage expanded use of its amphitheater. Council members said they wanted one set criteria rather than answer individual requests on perhaps all 35 Longview park facilities.

Members of both the city council and parks board expressed certainty that they would not consider allowing alcohol at family- or youth-oriented parks such as Lear Park, which borders Pine Tree schools, or parks with playgrounds.

"My first vote (will be) no alcohol where there are children that can come play on that playground," Bullard said. "How can we keep from mixing children and alcohol at an event?"

Parks board members will work with the city attorney's office to create a draft ordinance that board members could recommend for city council approval, Hill said.

"You have already said you don't want alcohol at Lear (Park) because of the schools," Hill told board members, "so if anybody ever asked for a permit at Lear, we would just say, 'No, by ordinance, it is not part of the process.'"

Hill added that members must also consider a city ordinance dating back to 1943 that forbids allowing alcoholic beverages within 300 feet of a school, church or hospital. That ordinance eliminates several facilities such as Stamper Park, Longview Swim Center and South Ward Park from being considered to allowed permitted alcohol consumption.

Hill estimates the process will take more than one month. She offered board members information from 43 other Texas cities about how they respond to requests for alcohol at their parks and said she would compile more information for comparison.

Of the 43 cities, Killeen, Garland, Odessa, Lufkin, McKinney and Allen do not allow alcohol at all in local parks facilities, she said. College Station allows alcohol consumption for residents at least 21 years old in public parks, but the other three dozen cities had various limitations on permitted alcohol sales and consumption at their parks.

Parks board members will hold their next public meeting at noon on Oct. 24 at City Hall, 300 West Cotton Street.



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