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Palm Coast Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 6 years ago

As bad as asphalt plants or puppy mills? Planning Board suggests adding bottle clubs to list of banned uses

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City staff members want to make sure the proposed ban doesn't unintentionally affect legitimate businesses, and plan to draft legal language that will ensure that it doesn't.
by: Jonathan Simmons Managing Editor

Would bottle clubs be as bad for Palm Coast as asphalt plants, puppy mills, junk yards and hog farms?

The city's Planning Board thinks the clubs are bad enough to be added to a list of banned land uses alongside them.

The trick, board members said at a meeting Jan. 20, would be to ban the kind of bottle clubs that have been associated with brawls and shootings in other Florida counties without unintentionally ensnaring legitimate businesses or social organizations. So city staff will draft an ordinance barring bottle clubs — looking to the legal language in other cities where they're banned, like Flagler Beach, for ideas — and then bring it back to the Planning Board for approval.

"I don't want to analogize it to pornography, but you know the famous quote about 'I know it when I see it'?" board member Robert Cuff said, citing the line by former Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart — "I think I understand what we all think should be prohibited, but I'd like to see the language to see if we can figure out what we actually would be prohibiting, and whether or not we're sweeping up some businesses that we shouldn't be discouraging."

The board came to the consensus to have city staff draft an ordinance barring the clubs — bar-like establishments where patrons bring their own alcohol and have it served back to them — at a meeting Jan. 20, picking the most drastic of four possible options city staff had suggested as possibilities to deal with the clubs.

The other three options would have allowed bottle clubs in various commercial- or industrial-zoned areas of the city.

But board members noted problems with permitting bottle clubs to open in such areas. Booze and industrial areas are often an unsafe mix, one member pointed out. And the city's commercial-zoned areas abut neighborhoods, leading one board member to say he would "have great trouble looking my neighbors in the eye" if the board allowed bottle clubs there.

Banning the clubs is a measure that will ultimately require a City Council vote, and would put Palm Coast in the company of Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach and Flagler Beach, which have banned them already.

The clubs have a bad reputation in Florida. According to statistics gathered by the Flagler County Sheriff's Office and presented to city staff members, who have repeatedly cited them in City Council meetings and presented them again at the Planning Board meeting Jan. 20, one bottle club in Volusia County had 453 emergency calls — including 44 fights and two associated homicides — over a 33-month period; and a cluster of three bottle clubs in Hillsborough County had 130 emergency calls — including 12 cases of battery and four shootings, with one fatality — in one year.

Part of that, staff suggested, is because the clubs in those locations stayed open after 2 a.m., when traditional bars were required to close — a loophole that's already been closed in Palm Coast's ordinances.

Right now, there are no bottle clubs in Palm Coast.

The matter of whether or not to allow them came to the city's attention after a couple approached the city asking about getting permits to open one in City Marketplace.

That prompted an outcry from local businesses, and representatives of Cue Note Billiards, Dominic's Deli, and Carmella's Pizza and Pasta, among others, emailed city officials, concerned that the potential club would cause trouble.

The city reacted quickly, creating a moratorium on issuing permits for any clubs on the basis of pending City Council legislation. That moratorium ends April 13, so the City Council needs to vote on what to do with the clubs before then if it wants to restrict them or ban them.

One iusse with an outright ban has been raised by both City Council members and Planning Board members: Can the city bar bottle clubs without also affecting other facilities that might sometimes allow people to bring their own booze?

Councilman Steve Nobile said in a City Council workshop Jan. 12 that he wouldn't want to accidentally ensnare a cultural club that may occasionally host parties.

A few Planning Board members raised a similar concern at the Jan. 20 meeting, with Sybil Dodson-Lucas saying she didn't want to "throw the baby out with the bathwater," and that creating a ban might be "jumping to a snap judgement."

Others said they didn't want to unintentionally affect things like Moose Club gatherings, jazz clubs or the Humidor Cigar Bar and Lounge at European Village. 

But they did want to keep out the rowdy establishments that have been the scene of donnybrooks in other Florida cities and counties. And bottle clubs, board member  Ray Henderson said, have caused problems "everywhere they’ve been" for residents' health, safety and welfare, creating legal justification for a ban.

"It’s the only choice," he said. "It’s proved itself everywhere in Florida." The statistics from Volusia County, he said in response to Dodson-Lucas' concerns about a ban, "are all you need to see."

What the board wants, board member Robert Cuff told City Planner Ray Tyner, is to bar the kind of "Volusia County unincorporated-area bottle clubs where people get shot at four in the morning ... without prohibiting legitimate businesses. Being a lawyer, I know that's a heck of a lot easier to say than to do."

City staff will draft an ordinance and bring it to the Planning Board for a vote at a public hearing (which has not yet been scheduled), and they have suggested that any local businesspeople who believe that a ban on bottle clubs might affect their own legitimate business attend and voice their concerns. After the Planning Board vote, the City Council will hold its own, final vote on the proposed ordinance.

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