Commission to recommend restricting liquor to highway zone

After receiving questions and comments from the public for a half hour Thursday evening, the Hillsboro Planning Commission decided to recommend to the city council that the location of restaurants that want to serve liquor by the drink be limited to the city?s ?highway commercial? zone.

At present, that would be the area known as Hillsboro Heights along U.S. Highway 56.

About 20 members of the public squeezed into the city council meeting room to participate in a public hearing called by the Planning Commission on that issue.

At the outset, City Admini?strator Larry Paine said the issue on the table was not whether restaurants that want to serve liquor by the drink should be allowed in the city.

That question, he said, was determined when a county-wide referendum on that issue was approved by voters in 2004.

?We must have?and the operative word is ?must??a place where this kind of transaction can occur,? Paine said. ?It cannot be excluded from the community, so you have to isolate it to one or more zoning districts.?

Even so, several of the persons who spoke up expressed a wish that such business establishments could be excluded from the community.

?Anything we can do to make it less available and outside the city is a good thing,? said Connie Isaac, 114 N. Adams. ?It?s too bad we can?t control it further than that.?

Isaac asked specifically if the city could still pass an ordinance that would exempt Hills?boro from the county vote.

?At this point, the county vote supercedes an ordinance because it is a higher level of law,? Paine said.

He added that government sometimes works top-down and sometimes the other direction. But in this case, ?If we took (an ordinance that would exempt the city from a county vote) to court, case law would be applied, not our community standard.?

No one present at the public hearing spoke in favor of allowing restaurants to serve alcohol by the drink, but several participants made statements against the use of alcohol, regardless of the application.

?I don?t think liquor has ever solved any problems,? said Ray Lohrentz, 404 Briarwood. ?But some businesses want it, and it?s all about money, money, money. It might build be building up Hillsboro a little bit, but what you would build up you tear down, too.?

Plato Shepherd, pastor of the Cottonwood Valley Baptist Church, agreed. ?Certainly I am opposed to it in every form?not just as a pastor, but having personally seen the effects of it, not only in people I?ve dealt with as a pastor, but in some of my extended family. It?s a terrible thing.?

One speaker cited as a reason not to allow a restaurant to serve alcoholic drinks an incident earlier this fall where several high school youth were caught drinking alcohol and were suspended from a sports team.

Two people mentioned students who attend Tabor College, where the consumption of alcohol is against school rules.

?To make it more available makes it more of a temptation to them,? said Fran Rhodes,702 E. First.

Bill Damberg, interim pastor at Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church, asked whether allowing restaurants that serve alcohol increases the cost of law enforcement for a city.

Paine replied, ?In my experience, it hasn?t.?

Damberg said some cities in which he has lived have restricted the location of such restaurants by setting minimum distances away from schools and churches, while other cities have limited the number of liquor licenses a city would issue.

Damberg said he would favor restrictions ?to the greatest degree that it would protect the citizenry of the community from the impact of this.?

Craig Roble, acting as Plan?ning Commission chair in the absence of its elected chair, Gaylord Goertzen, said the kind of issues Damberg mentioned generally are dealt with by city ordinance, which is not the commission?s area of authority.

Roble said the Planning Commission?s task would be to formulate a recommendation to the city council, which has the authority to accept it, reject it or change it.

When the public hearing was adjourned and the Planning Commission began its deliberation, members moved relatively quickly to a recommendation to designate ?highway commercial? as the only permissible zone for restaurants that want to serve alcoholic drinks.

In previous discussions, the commission had considered allowing such restaurants in two other zones: the ?central business district overlay,? which would include the downtown area of Main and Grand; and ?limited commercial,? which would include an area along East D that also has been home to eating establishments.

The recommendation to limit the option to ?highway commercial? passed 5-0 with member Ray Franz abstaining.

?I?m on the commission and I have to say in all good conscience I could not vote for making a liquor store available,? Franz said prior to the vote. ?I?ve had a brother who was 25 when he was killed by a man who was just drinking beer. It?s hard for me to accept that I have to do this.?

Because the area in Hillsboro zoned ?highway commercial? is not located near a church, school or residence, the commission agreed is was not necessary for a business to obtain a conditional-use permit.

Paine said Monday the Planning Commission?s recommendation would not be addressed by the city council until its Oct. 15 meeting ?at the earliest.?

In an unrelated agenda item, the Planning Commission approved a recommendation that the Cottonwood Valley Baptist Church be issued a conditional-use permit that would allow it to meet in the former Bartel Insurance building at the 100 block of West C St.

Pastor Plato Shepherd said his fledgling congregation is averaging 25 to 35 attendees per week and has outgrown its present meeting place in a store front at 114 S. Main.

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