City Council passes emergency ordinance to allow public consumption of alcohol in downtown Steamboat | SteamboatToday.com
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City Council passes emergency ordinance to allow public consumption of alcohol in downtown Steamboat

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Possession and consumption of alcohol is now permitted in public areas of downtown Steamboat Springs following Steamboat Springs City Council’s passage this week of an emergency ordinance.

The emergency ordinance temporarily unanimously approved Tuesday suspends provisions within the city’s municipal code to permit possession and consumption of alcohol in some of the city’s rights of way from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Beverages can only be in a to-go container and must be labeled by the establishment where it was purchased.

Gov. Jared Polis granted local governments in the state the authority over public rights of way last month through an executive order, which suspended enforcement of the state statute that limited local government authority over consumption and possession of alcohol beverages in public rights of way.

Cities such as Vail, Englewood and Telluride have adopted similar ordinances, according to Steamboat City Attorney Dan Foote.

Telluride had a wrinkle in passing its emergency ordinance, Foote said, as its exemption only applied to consumption of alcohol purchased on a takeout basis from a restaurant or bar and not applicable to packaged liquor.

“I have some doubts whether or not it would be practical to enforce such a restriction, but I do think that you could justify it as a legal matter — if you thought that it was necessary to try to support the restaurant industry and not necessarily the packaged liquor industry,” he explained to council.

At a glance

The emergency ordinance:

  • Temporarily permits possession and consumption of alcohol in public areas in downtown Steamboat Springs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Is effective immediately and would expire in 90 days or upon the expiration of the governor’s executive order giving the city the power to adopt the ordinance.
  • Permits public possession and consumption of alcohol in the downtown area generally located between Third to 12th streets and Oak to Yampa streets. Oak Street is limited to the area between Eighth and 10th streets, and the proposed boundary on Lincoln Avenue extends to 13th Street in order to permit access to Iron Springs Park.
  • Takeout beverages must be either “corked or sealed with a stub, stopper or cap” or they may have a plastic lid that is taped shut so long as the contents are not partially removed, there is no straw or other hole in the lid, and the container has a label warning the patron not to open the container while in transit.
  • Retail packaged alcohol is not included under the ordinance.

Source: City of Steamboat Springs

Council Member Kathi Meyer immediately questioned how such an ordinance would contribute to increased business, and Council Member Michael Buccino equated the ordinance with potentially turning downtown into something like Bourbon Street.

“You’ll see people consuming alcohol on sidewalks and crosswalks, but it will not be a sort of party in the street,” Foote said.

The ordinance permits public possession and consumption of alcohol in the downtown area generally located between Third, 12th, Oak and Yampa streets. Oak Street is limited to the area between Eighth and 10th streets, and the proposed boundary on Lincoln Avenue extends to 13th Street to include Iron Springs Park.

The intention of the ordinance is to find additional revenue opportunities for restaurants impacted by COVID-19, according to Mark Stanford of local dining spots Truffle Pig and Carl’s Tavern.

“The addition of one extra beverage added onto a check, for every one sold to a guest, we could see our per person check average increase by 30%. Every little bit helps,” Stanford said.

It would also help fill seats quicker, he added.

Main Street Steamboat Springs Executive Director Lisa Popovich said conversations about the ordinance with other Main Street retailers and gallery owners were “overwhelmingly positive.”

“If somebody buys a glass of wine from Restaurant A and walks down the street drinking it and goes into an establishment that does not have a liquor license — a shop, a candy store, whatever — is that going to be allowed or not?” council Member Robin Crossan asked.

Foote said that would be unlawful. Retail stores are considered public places but are private property and would not be subject to this emergency ordinance, he explained.

Council Member Heather Sloop echoed Crossan’s comments and said she had an issue with how the ordinance would be enforced. 

Steamboat Police Chief Cory Christensen said enforcement of the ordinance wouldn’t necessarily pose a problem as there would be real boundaries set where open container is and is not permitted.

“The real challenge, however, is you take the responsibility off the premise, off the licensees, the person would be outside their premise, and we would never be able to know where someone got the alcohol that they’re wandering around with,” he said.

But officers aren’t going to be stationed at every retail business making sure people aren’t taking alcohol into prohibited businesses, Christensen said.

Rebecca Bessey, city planning director, acknowledged there have been some challenges with an emergency ordinance passed by the city in June to expand outdoor seating areas for restaurants downtown.

“(It’s) just the physical constraints of our sidewalk and our spaces; we don’t have very wide sidewalks downtown, we have a lot of obstructions in them (like) benches, trees, trash enclosures,” she said.

That’s in addition to the space constraints of each restaurant’s specific footprint. There’s also an issue of taking up parking to expand seating and if that parking space is actually more valuable, along with the challenge of keeping sidewalks in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“This is a 90-day experiment,” City Manager Gary Suiter said.

To reach Bryce Martin, call 970-871-4206 or email bmartin@SteamboatPilot.com.


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