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Spokane City Council hits pause button on beer garden ordinance amendment

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(The Center Square) – Spokane City Council members on Monday paused consideration of a proposed ordinance amendment that could expand the use of fenced beer gardens on public rights-of-way and allow entry – but not alcohol consumption – of persons under age 21 when accompanied by an adult.

Council members agreed to continue discussions at their Feb. 26 meeting before acting on a possible revision to the city’s Family Friendly Festivals ordinance.

Spokane is host to numerous community events sponsored by businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations, including fundraisers and regulated activities where alcohol is available for adults. But some think the city’s current ordinance language is “too restrictive … while considering the social elements of alcohol” and interferes with “families enjoying the full range of activities within (a) festival area ….”

Council members are now considering expanding access to families, particularly beer gardens, under regulations established by the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Control Board.

Support for the proposal was voiced Monday night by representatives of two nonprofits which promote local economic and business development: Jake Mayson, public policy director for Greater Spokane Inc., and Emilie Cameron, president and CEO of Downtown Spokane Partnership.

Allowing alcohol can provide an opportunity to “enhance an event” while coexisting in a family friendly environment, Cameron told the council.

But complying with state liquor laws becomes a larger logistical task at an outdoor festival beer garden compared to smaller ventures such as an adults-only “sip-and-shop” wine-tasting event, officials acknowledged.

There was considerable discussion on the use of wristbands: as a means of easily verifying patrons of legal drinking age, the amount of time needed to check identification, and whether all adults – or just those consuming alcohol – would be required to wear them.

Councilmember Jonathan Bingle called wristbands “an incredibly useful tool” to verify identification at events and he favored ordinance language to reflect that.

Councilmember Kitty Klitzke acknowledged there is a logistical difference between regulating a “high-end, ticketed wine tasting” compared to a “huge, no-ticket community event.”

While city officials continue to explore those issues, a few citizens told council members during a public comment period Monday that they opposed admitting any minors into venues where alcohol was being served. One woman said she was saddened by the “pursuit of revenue” that would allow “a 3-year-old in a beer garden. It’s gonna be a problem.”

But Klitzke later said she grew up in a German family where alcohol was consumed responsibly in group settings and such conduct provided a behavior model for children.

Councilmen Zack Zappone and Paul Dillon backed deferral to the Feb. 26 meeting, with Dillon saying he wanted to support nonprofits and businesses while also protecting youth and beverage servers.

Under amendment language proposed by Dillon and Zappone, allowing minors into an alcohol-restricted area on a public right-of-way would require a special occasion license issued by the state Liquor and Cannabis Control Board. Their proposal also specified that a beer garden would be required to close by 9 p.m., and minors must be accompanied at all times by an adult in an approved serving area.

Dillon and Bingle further supported restoring a wristband identification requirement for persons 21 and older, and Bingle called for preserving the Spokane Police Department’s ability to deny a permit based on “alcohol service issues.”