Social host ordinance falls |

Social host ordinance falls

Tie vote not enough for City Council to approve effort to curb underage drinking

Brandon Gee

The absence of a council member helped doom a “social host” ordinance that failed in a tie vote of the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday.

Councilman Jon Quinn, who is out of town, was an early supporter of the ordinance, including stringent provisions regarding possible jail sentences that were removed before the ordinance was presented for its second and final reading Tuesday. The ordinance fell in a 3-3 vote; the adoption of an ordinance requires four votes.

Councilmen Scott Myller, Steve Ivancie and Walter Magill voted in favor the legislation, which would have provided penalties for parents and other adults who allow underage drinking on their property. City Council President Loui Antonucci and councilwomen Meg Bentley and Cari Hermacinski voted against it. The law would have been the first of its kind in Colorado. A similar proposal also failed in 2006.

As they did at the ordinance’s first reading in September, supporters turned out in force to speak in favor of the ordinance. They included representatives from Colorado Mountain College, the Steamboat Springs Teen Council, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, the Steamboat Springs Police Department, the Steamboat Springs School District and local churches.

“Teen drinking in our community has grown out of control in recent years,” said Austin Ritzel, a member of the teen council. “I find it both appalling and unfortunate that action was not taken sooner.”

But unlike the September meeting, a few people also showed up to oppose the ordinance. Among their concerns was that the law would force underage drinking out of the relative safety of a home and into vehicles and the countryside.

“The big problem with this ordinance is not only that it will be ineffective but that it will make the situation worse,” said Thomas Reuter Jr., a 1997 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School. “The parties that occurred in the houses were tame compared to the ones in the woods.”

Although proponents agreed the ordinance wouldn’t solve Steamboat’s pervasive underage drinking woes, they said the ordinance would be a step in the right direction and a policy component in a multifaceted approach to combat the problem.

“I have had the sad responsibility over the past 10 years : of seeing the heartache and the devastation and the waste of life that is the result of the abuse of alcohol,” Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg said. “While this will not eliminate teen drinking, it will have an impact on this growing problem.”

Council members who voted in favor of the ordinance said they were happy to support the community-driven proposal.

“I’m ready to break some ground and start changing some social norms,” Myller said. “I just think it’s crazy that parents would allow drinking in their homes with their (children’s) friends. Doesn’t that say it’s OK? Maybe this ordinance won’t do anything, but it’s something. I can’t sit here and do nothing.”

Council members who voted against the ordinance said they understand the city has an underage drinking problem and would be open to other ideas to address it.

“The thing I think is we have a behavioral issue,” Antonucci said. “I really think it’s a problem that we can’t legislate our way out of.”

Hermacinski shared concerns relating to potential unintended consequences of the ordinance.

“To me, the only thing more scary than your kids drinking in homes is them drinking in cars with my kids on the same roads,” she said.

City Attorney Tony Lettunich said he is not aware of any city policies that would prevent supporters from reintroducing the ordinance at a later date.

“It’s something we obviously feel passionately about,” said Steamboat Springs Police Capt. Joel Rae, who said proponents may resubmit the ordinance when it can be considered by the entire council. “If we can, then I think we should. If we can’t, we’ll shift focus to different things : to keep our kids safe.”

Other action

Also Tuesday, City Council unanimously approved the second and final reading of an ordinance creating a new city building permit fee. It is estimated the fee would cost $1,100 for a 2,500-square-foot single-family home and $6,520.40 for a 40,000-square-foot commercial property.

City planners were told to begin negotiating a pre-annexation agreement with the developers of 360 Village. Council reviewed a pre-application for the project, which proposes a mix of uses including 550 to 650 homes on 110 acres 1.3 miles west of city limits.

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