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Berry: Voice support

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:46 PM

Doug Berry said it's his turn.

The owner of Berry's Restaurant wants his side heard in a request to serve alcohol in Bresson Park. A vote by city council is expected in the coming weeks. Berry's already leases Bresson Park to serve food. The restaurant now would like to serve alcohol with the meals in the park.

"Over and over again the council people are making it known how many negative comments they are getting about liquor in a public park," Berry said Wednesday afternoon. "I think it is time for people to call in and voice their opinion. Call the mayor, call the city, call the safety-service director, call their councilmen. We had people sign a book and it was an overwhelming 8-1 in favor of liquor in the park. This is a restaurant that needs the business every flipping day. If it wasn't important, I would let it die. It's not like I need more stuff to do ...This is important to us."

Berry cited a restaurant owners' survey that said "if a meal is good, they (the customers) are going to tell anywhere between one and three people. If it is bad, it's anywhere from 15 to 25. If it's bad, they will speak up. If they like it, they won't say anything.

"I don't want the naysayers to get this turned down. There are people who want it. It's time people say, hey, either I want it or I don't."

Berry's opened in 1946. The Dinky, a restaurant/pub connected to the restaurant, opened Dec. 26, 2004. The Dinky is adjacent to Bresson Park.

Berry said the restaurant business isn't easy.

"I talk to food people every day," he said. "Just look at the Homestead, Spreader's, McClain's, Margarita Bay (in Sandusky), Showboat, Nate's in Port Clinton (all closed) ... the idea is restaurants are a tough business. The Angry Trout is up for sale. It is tough. Not that Berry's is going to go out of business ... we have 70 employees ... we have to make sure our business does well and this will help our business." Berry owned the Homestead restaurant when it closed.

Norwalk City Council members discussed Berry's request Tuesday, which is before council in the form of two pieces of legislation introduced by council member Bob Carleton. One would expand the city's lease agreement with Berry's, which allows the restaurant to serve food in Bresson Park during the summer months, to include alcohol.

The more problematic legislation would change the city ordinance that prohibits alcohol in public parks.

Law Director Stuart O'Hara said, as currently constructed, the legislation would cross a line and open the city up to challenges from other businesses or organizations. For example, if a service organization like the Jaycees or Lions' Club were to rent a city space, such as the Clubhouse at the reservoir, they could request the city allow them to serve alcohol as part of a fundraiser.

"You run into the problem of selectivity," he said. "It's opened a door I don't think you intended to open."

O'Hara will study whether the legislation can be completely specific to Berry's, but said it was likely the city would still be open to legal challenges on the basis of discrimination. O'Hara will do the research and present his findings at the June 26 council meeting. Meaning, at the earliest, council could vote on the proposal at its July 10 meeting. Even if approved, it would take 30 days before the legislation went into effect.

"From a practical standpoint, it's not going to happen for Mr. Berry this summer anyway," said council member Tom Stoll. "We probably need to look at it some more. Find a better way of doing it."

Stoll suggested the city might be able to alter Bresson Park's designation as a public park and make another arrangements with Berry's.

Mayor Sue Lesch said she opposes the proposal, not based on Berry's, but on her ethical training. If it was just about helping Berry's she would support it, but the proposal has wide repercussions.

Council member Dwight Tkach countered that the city always helps business through grants and tax abatements. Lesch responded that those dollars always come with a requirement to create a certain amount of jobs, which serves the public good.

"When you make these decisions to help business, there has to be a public purpose," she said. "I, personally, can't see it here. I can't see the public purpose, and it can't be just to help a business."

Even rewritten to eliminate the potential legal problems, several council members said they have heard from many constituents and they are overwhelmingly and adamantly opposed to allowing alcohol in public parks.

"I'm sure the constituents I talked with aren't opposed to it on any technicality, they are full blown opposed," said council member Chris Mushett. "I can't see the public view point changing no matter how we craft an ordinance."

Tkach said the city only focuses on the negatives and what ifs when businesses request help. He added other cities, such as Sandusky, are able to do such things and it has not had negative effects.

"Each of us is elected to represent our own personal beliefs, and the beliefs of those who elected us," responded council president Steve Euton. "If Norwalk chooses to be different than cities like Sandusky or Huron that choose to allow this, that's this community's privilege."

The city's park board voted against the proposal three-to-one earlier in the day.

Police Chief Kevin Cashen also spoke against the idea, saying public drinking is already a problem in the city. He also said that, with a push from the city, county and schools to fight drug and alcohol use, especially among children, this would send a mixed message.

"We are working with number of agencies to provide more prevention for youth ... but it's OK for our adults to go out in public park and drink and teenagers can ride their bike down the street and see it," he said.

Lesch added Ann Bresson, a member of the family for which the park is named, opposes the proposal.

Council member Shane Penrose said Bresson and Cashen's views "spoke volumes."

EDITOR'S NOTE: Reflector Staff Writer Matt Hutton contributed to this story.

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