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Carleton: Vote should be close

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:49 PM

Will Berry's Restaurant be allowed to serve alcohol in the park? The question should be resolved this evening, but it is still up in the air whether the measure will pass or fail. Bob Carleton said he expects it to be a margin of one vote, either way.

Carleton said he sponsored the ordinance change to allow alcohol because he thought Berry's deserved to have issue resolved, one way or the other. Owner Doug Berry first proposed selling alcohol more than a year ago.

Carleton said he will vote to allow the alcohol. "I don't think it's a bad idea," he said.

"I don't think it's going to cause people who walk by any undue stress to see someone with a glass of wine or bottle of beer in front of them."

Council member Skip Wilde agreed that he didn't see the alcohol causing much of a disturbance, however, he does plan to vote against the new ordinance. He doesn't like the current version of the legislation because it's been written down so tight that no one else would be able to use it, which isn't fair.

Primarily, he will vote 'no' because the measure is so unpopular. He is a council member at large, he said, and people voted for him because they thought he'd make the right decisions. But in this case, "more than enough people say that they don't want it, and that's who I represent."

On the other side, council member Chris Mushett said he has received more calls on this issue than any other during his tenure on council, and they are overwhelmingly negative.

For him, Mushett said, besides the voice of the public, the issue is letting a public park be turned into a private space. Though the city currently has granted Berry's a lease on the land in Bresson, the tables where Berry's serves food are still open to anyone who wants to sit at them.

The terms of the current plan to allow Berry's to serve alcohol, were they passed, include requiring the area to be fenced off.

Shane Penrose also believes allowing the alcohol will be a de facto closure of a public park. Plus, he said this issue seems to have touched a nerve with the public, and they are strongly against it. And after all, he said, "it is their park."

For Mayor Sue Lesch and council member Tera Thornhill, the new measure would make the parks less family friendly. Lesch said she's been to enough places with her grandkids where they served alcohol to know she probably wouldn't feel comfortable taking them to Bresson Park if the change were made.

Even if it's the people at the next table being a little too loud, that would make her feel like she would have to pack up her grandchildren.

When asked how many grandparents are currently taking their children to the park, she shot back, "How many Berry's customers have used it?"

Council member Tera Thornhill agreed that alcohol "can lead to other behavior that is just not what I feel we should have around our children."

Lesch said that though she opposed the idea because it didn't make sense for the city, she didn't blame Doug Berry for requesting the change. "He has a right to say, 'I'd like to do this. It would be good for my business,'" she said.

For his part, Berry said he made the request because he has a lot of plans to improve Berry's Restaurant, to "get people's attention," and many of them revolve around the park.

For example, he said, he'd like to put glass doors in the private room at Berry's which would open out into the park, which would make it a much nicer venue for wedding receptions and rehearsal dinners. He didn't think doing so would make sense without the full-use of the park.

However, even if council approved the current measures, he didn't see making that investment, he said. The terms of the proposed lease can be terminated at a snap of the fingers. To make a real investment, he would need a more stable situation, either a more secure lease or ownership.

Many have suggested that ownership would make many of these problems go away, and Berry said that buying the land was something he initially considered, however then law director Jim Conway suggested that selling the land to him would be too complicated and he should lease.

The mayor agreed that selling the land to Berry's would present real problems. The city can't just sell the land. It has to put it up for auction, she said. Then, it wouldn't necessarily go to Berry's it would go to the highest bidder.

Berry's currently has a lease to serve food in the park, for which it pays $100 per month for June through September. The park remains public and anyone can use the park's tables for any purpose. In order to serve alcohol, the city would have to change an ordinance forbidding alcohol on public property. The current version of that legislation would allow alcohol in parks in fairly restricted circumstances.

If that ordinance were changed, then Berry's would still need to sign a new lease to sell alcohol. The proposed lease that would allow Berry's to serve alcohol would cost Berry's $200 per month, and they would have to pay that all year.

Council members Steve Euton, Tom Stoll, and Dwight Tkach could not be reached by press time.

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