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Iowa City considering changes to law aimed at downtown bars

Gregg Hennigan, CR Gazette –

IOWA CITY – The City Council will discuss whether a city code limiting how close drinking establishments can be to each other should apply only to the area around downtown.

In 2009, the council changed the city’s zoning rules to require at least 500 feet between drinking establishments, which are defined as businesses with liquor licenses whose primary activity involves food or alcohol and are open after midnight.

The vote came at a time the city was undertaking a number of measures to try to get a handle on binge-drinking problems, particularly among college students. The intent was to keep new bars from opening in the already bar-heavy downtown. Existing establishments were grandfathered in.

Matt Hayek, who is now Iowa City’s mayor, and another person who is no longer on the City Council voted against the measure, saying it also would target non-problem bars away from the downtown.

Now, city staffers say “it is reasonable to distinguish between areas” that have a concentration of drinking establishments, or the potential to have a concentration, and those that do not, according to a memo City Attorney Eleanor Dilkes sent to council members Thursday.

In other words, areas away from the city’s core would not be subject to the 500-foot rule. If the council is interested in pursuing that, city staff will examine how to define those areas, Dilkes said.

The City Council is to discuss the issue at its work session Nov. 13.

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