Naperville City Council members think a 5-ounce glass of wine might be taking things a little too far, but otherwise they’re ready to approve a set of new restrictions aimed at reining in some of the wildest late-night behaviors that have been on the rise in the city’s downtown bar district.
The council heard the first reading Tuesday night of code amendments designed to reduce late-night incidents instigated by intoxicated bar patrons. After removing a change that would reduce by an ounce the maximum permitted size for a glass of wine from the current 6-ounce pour, the council instructed staff to put the changes into a form that will come back for a final vote later this month.
The draft ordinance update calls for barring customers from entering or returning to a bar less than an hour before closing time. It also caps the legal portion size for a shot at 2 ounces and forbids serving shots less than an hour before the bar closes, with no “last call” announcements permitted when the service ceases. In addition, the pending legislation prohibits service of a beer larger than 20 ounces to a single patron, and requires security staff to receive the same state-mandated Beverage Alcoholic Sellers and Servers Education Training (BASSET) now required for servers and employees of retail establishments that sell alcohol.
Additional changes are under consideration as well, including customized security training for bouncers and a possible hike in the fee for late-night liquor licenses, with staff reports scheduled over the coming several months.
Although the council generally is behind the tighter regulations, support for the changes wasn’t unanimous among those who discussed them at Tuesday’s meeting. Resident Jack Johnson took officials to task for the efforts, calling them “reckless regulations” and saying people will find ways to skirt the restrictions so they can still drink to excess.
“It’s just going to inconvenience people, I think, more than anything,” he said, maintaining that many bar patrons choose to spend the final hour of the evening drinking water and dancing.
He accused officials of spotlighting the drunken incidents, ignoring “the real problems that Naperville faces” and operating from a politically motivated perspective while they misdirect their focus to an issue that is of lesser concern.
“It is going after low-hanging fruit of the bars to provide the illusion that you’re doing good for the city, while turning a blind eye to the real problems plaguing the city and diminishing the good name of Naperville,” he said, suggesting heroin is a much greater community concern.
Johnson cautioned that the city could fall prey to “a growing trend” of younger households locating in more urban areas, where there is typically a vibrant late-night scene, taking tax dollars with them.
“One of the few reasons I chose — and many younger families might choose — to live in Naperville over living in Chicago is because there is still some degree of night life,” he said.
Councilwoman Judy Brodhead took umbrage at the assertions, noting that the fight against heroin is also among the council’s numerous priorities.
“It’s really insulting to accuse us of doing this for political gain,” she said.
Brodhead emphasized that alcohol abuse cuts a far broader path of destruction than the also-deadly street drug, and said young women have told her they feel unsafe downtown late at night because of the pervasive drunkenness.
“What we think is actually happening is people who would like to be customers are staying away,” she said.
Some bar operators outside the downtown area had questions about the proposed changes, noting that their establishments don’t experience the same problems as those seen at the cluster of bars in the central retail area. Officials recognized the discrepancies, but said they need to apply the restrictions fairly.
Council member Bob Fieseler, pointing out “the devil in the details,” suggested it might be possible to take a more surgical approach to the restrictions, though city prosecutor Mike DiSanto said the different versions of liquor licenses held by various bars could complicate the effort.
Councilman Grant Wehrli also said new rules must be consistent and can’t simply target establishments seen as straying from accepted best practices.
“I’m compassionate with your concerns,” he said. “But I want my town back.”Tags: bars, City Council, downtown Naperville