2 Routt County municipalities take opposite approaches in allowing alcohol in parks | SteamboatToday.com

2 Routt County municipalities take opposite approaches in allowing alcohol in parks

Just one day apart, two Routt County municipalities took very different approaches to when and how they wish to allow alcohol in their public parks.

In the new council’s first official vote, Steamboat Springs City Council voted on a first reading Tuesday to allow alcohol in all city parks from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., regardless of whether or not they have a playground. Six members supported the first reading of the ordinance, with member Heather Sloop voting in opposition because she felt parks should be preserved for youth.

“I think parks are sacred in a sense that kids go to play there; parks are made specifically for kids,” Sloop said. “Most people that use parks are youth, who legally are not allowed to drink, and I don’t think this is conveying the right message to those individuals and giving their parents the freedom to possibly excessively use alcohol.”

If council passes the second reading, the ordinance will sunset in three years, meaning council will need to vote again in 2024.

Steamboat first relaxed its alcohol ordinances during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when restaurants were under severe restrictions and were looking for ways to continue selling alcohol without being able to seat customers inside at full capacity.

City Council then voted in July 2020 to allow public consumption in the downtown area, then later extended the same ordinance to the mountain area.

The Colorado Legislature also voted to allow restaurants to serve takeout alcohol until July 2025, though it did not extend the provision allowing consumption of alcohol in right-of-ways, meaning the city’s exception allowing open container consumption around Lincoln Avenue and Yampa Street has expired.

Because alcohol is no longer allowed in right-of-ways, Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Bock, who brought the ordinance to council, said community members still wanted a place to drink outside of restaurants and private residences, and restaurants still wanted a place for their to-go drinks to be consumed safely.

The new ordinance allows alcohol in all parks, but Howelsen Hill Complex has always been an exception to the city’s previous ban, which Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby said has never caused problems for the city.

“The biggest impact we saw was just increased garbage from increased use, and most of that garbage actually made it into the cans,” Cosby said. “We have received a lot of inquiries with confusion about where alcohol is allowed, so this would clear some things up.”

While she did support the ordinance, council member Gail Garey expressed concern about extra plastic being disposed in city parks.

“I think it’s been a great thing in terms of our restaurants and supporting our local community through COVID, but as the self-appointed environmental person here, I don’t really support this from the perspective of creating more waste,” Garey said. “I’d like to see some sort of transition away from plastic and towards aluminum.”

Council member Dakotah McGinlay also said she was in favor of giving restaurants another avenue to support themselves but felt Steamboat was lacking in support for those trying to abstain from alcohol and wanted to explore adding an extra fee for a liquor license to support mental health and addiction recovery programs down the road.

“If we can help out the restaurants, how can we also support the recovery network that we so deeply need in this town, as well?” McGinlay asked.

While COVID-19 restrictions are no longer in place, Steamboat Springs Chamber CEO Kara Stoller said restaurants could still use the flexibility in the ordinance because staffing shortages will likely cause problems this season.

“Enabling businesses to have additional sales if they can’t seat these patrons because they don’t have enough staff is helpful,” Stoller said.

Steamboat Springs Police Department Interim Chief Jerry Stabile also said the department has not seen any spike in alcohol-related issues since the first ordinances were passed in 2020.

Just 21 miles south of Steamboat, the town of Oak Creek began exploring a different policy at its Wednesday meeting: only allowing alcohol in parks for special events and requiring multiple fees to do so, on top of the permit fees for the event itself.

After what he said has been a recurring issue of beer cans being left in parks and vomit found in bathroom stalls, Oak Creek Police Chief Ralph Maher asked the Town Board to consider an ordinance requiring those who want to have alcohol at a park to receive a permit and pay $25 for a one-time event and $10 per event for recurring events, such as weekly hockey, which he said often includes alcohol.

Those wanting to have alcohol at an Oak Creek park also must pay a refundable $100 fee. Similar to a security deposit on a rental unit, the fee will be refunded if conditions are deemed acceptable.

“If we’re going to give your chief of police and your police officers peace, I recommend that we continue to use the best common sense that we can when we face these issues,” Maher said.

Still, Oak Creek Mayor Nikki Knoebel was concerned that imposing a fee would penalize law-abiding citizens, as she believed those who are going to cause problems would likely still drink without a permit.

“My adult friends would never do that, and that’s why I don’t want these adults that are spending money to be taken advantage of,” Knoebel said.

Maher said, though the $100 fee might seem lofty, he wanted to ensure residents have an incentive to leave a place clean.

Those who want to consume alcohol in parks must also have an events permit, meaning that a group spontaneously deciding to have a picnic or barbecue with alcohol would not be able to do so.

Town Board member Wendy Gustafson told Maher she was concerned about a group that followed rules being held responsible for a group that did not.

In response, Maher said he would explore a way for park users to send the police department a video or photo of a clean park after their use.

“It comes with a time stamp embedded in the video, so that staves off that particular issue of the hoodlums coming out at 8:20 and trashing the park,” Maher said.

Wednesday was a non-vote work session, so town board members did not take any votes.

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