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Alcohol in park proposal back before council

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 11:31 AM

A proposal to allow Berry's Restaurant to serve alcohol in Bresson Park is back before city council.

Last spring, Doug Berry made the request to council, but because the proposal lacked backing from the mayor and other council members, nothing every came of it.

Berry's already has an arrangement with the city to serve food in the public park. However, it would need special approval from council to serve alcohol because city ordinance prohibits alcohol in public parks.

The idea behind the proposal would be to allow customers to enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, Berry said, adding he had no interest in attracting the "rowdy element."

He said many people declined to take advantage of the outdoor dining last year because they could not have a glass of beer or wine with their dinner.

"It's a business builder for us, and, quite frankly, we need the business," he said, adding 2006 was the first year the restaurant made a profit since 1999. The outdoor dining would create a unique atmosphere and offer exposure to the stores around Berry's.

Last year, the proposal did not have enough support to be voted on. This time it has a sponsor in council member Bob Carleton.

"We have an obligation to look at both sides of the issue and get it out in the open and discuss it intelligently," he said. "We surely cannot believe having a glass of wine or a beer with dinner is going to destroy the family foundation... It will add ambiance to the city."

Mayor Sue Lesch continues to oppose the proposal. She said she has no problem with Berry's and understands the benefits to the restaurant. However, Lesch said the issue becomes more difficult once the city begins to make exceptions for certain businesses.

"I have an obligation, not to do what's best for a portion of the city, but for everyone," Lesch said, adding she already receives criticism from residents that Berry's is even allowed to serve food in the park.

Berry said he understands the mayor's criticisms, but said the city needed to be willing to think "outside the box" to expand and attract downtown business.

Chamber of Commerce President Melissa James said the city would be able to handle requests on a case-by-case basis easily, especially because the law requires a business that sells alcohol outside to be adjacent to the property and there are no setups similar to Berry's involving a public park.

"Obviously it's a good thing for the Main Street area if people can go out there sit and have a nice dinner. If they want to have a glass a wine with dinner, so what?" James said.

Council member Dwight Tkach is leaning toward voting in favor of the agreement. He said Berry's would have two or three months to sell alcohol this year, which could serve as a trial period.

"If it's policed right, I don't see a problem, and I think it would be an asset downtown."

New Main Street program director Dave Gulden said he did not think the city should change its rules to suit individual businesses but Berry's was an exception.

"Berry's is a responsible community anchor and a great way to get people downtown," Gulden said.

On the other hand, council member Chris Mushett, who has not yet made a final decision on the issue, said last year he received complaints from other uptown businesses that such an arrangement would give Berry's an unfair advantage.

"I don't necessarily have a problem with alcohol being consumed outside, but when you're using a public park to do it rather than private property, it really confuses the issue," Mushett said. "I probably got more calls on that issue than all the other issues we dealt with combined ... the reaction was overwhelmingly against it."

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