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Residents voice their opinions on alcohol in park

Norwalk Reflector Staff • Oct 29, 2015 at 12:48 PM

City council may have two big decisions on tap at the next meeting on July 24 whether to allow alcohol in public parks and whether to allow a tax abatement for Batesville Casket Company to move off U.S. 250 into a new facility in the Norwalk Commons development.

Council members didn't discuss their views on allowing Berry's Restaurant to serve alcohol in Bresson Park during Tuesday night's council meeting, but audience members spoke for both sides of the issue.

Mike Babcock, of 54 Linwood Ave., spoke against the proposal. "Don't let this nice, quaint little city prostitute itself," he said. He called the renewal of legislation to allow alcohol in public parks in the downtown area if the seller had a permit and a lease with the city "a waste of taxpayers' dollars" and said the proposal "smacks of favoritism" since only one business has asked for the arrangement.

Babcock said every poll he has seen has been against the proposal, which shows the public doesn't support it. He added that the combination of concealed carry permits for weapons and alcohol in a public park could be a dangerous combination.

Debra McClung, who owns both a design business and a realty company in Lewisburg, W.Va., and is currently working on a design project for Berry's, urged council members to consider the proposal. She said the small town of Lewisburg's downtown "was dying" until the town approved a similar proposal to allow alcohol on public property with special permission.

"It absolutely amazed me what it has done for business in the whole downtown area," she said, adding Lewisburg's downtown has several new businesses and even restaurants that don't serve alcohol have benefited from the change in policy. The downtown has worked together to bring in tourism dollars and allowing alcohol on public property is part of that plan, she said after the meeting.

Norwalk Police Chief Kevin Cashen repeated his opposition to the proposal after the meeting. "I'm still against drinking in the public parks," he said.

Cashen pointed out that 44 Norwalk businesses have liquor permits from the state and 20 of those businesses also serve food. He added that the state has granted 12 liquor permits to businesses in the downtown area.

"I don't think the public lacks opportunity to get a drink if they want," he said. Cashen said he supported Berry's request for a liquor permit for the Dinky Pub and Grille, but he doesn't believe the restaurant should expand the serving of liquor outside of its building.

On the issue of development of the Norwalk Commons project on the north side of the city, the manager for Batesville said the company would like to leave its U.S. 250 location and move into a new 25,000-square-foot, million-dollar facility just two blocks away in the area being developed by Pride One.

Manager Mike Kierstead said the move would take the company from Norwalk Township into the city so the city would benefit from additional income tax dollars. As part of a proposed deal, he added, Pride One would then use the frontage on U.S. 250 to expand its development project.

Mayor Sue Lesch called the proposal "significant" for Pride One. Batesville would not only encourage other companies to consider joining the development, she said, but Pride One plans to use the abandoned frontage on U.S. 250 to add restaurants to the development.

Ben Kenny, development coordinator for WSOS Community Action Commission based in Fremont, explained to council that Batesville is now working through state channels to get permission to apply for tax abatement since the state considers the move a relocation instead of an addition. He said the state discourages abatements for relocations so that communities can't entice businesses away from other communities routinely by offering new abatements. If Batesville gets the state waiver, he said, council can consider an abatement of up to 60 percent for the new facility.

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