One day apart, two municipalities in Routt County have taken very different approaches to when and how they want to allow alcohol in their public parks.
In the new council’s first official vote, Steamboat Springs City Council voted on first reading Tuesday to allow alcohol in all city parks from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., 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 young people.
“I think parks are sacred in the sense that children go to play there; the parks are specially designed for children, ”Sloop said. “Most of the people who use the parks are young people, who are not legally allowed to drink, and I don’t think it sends the right message to these people and gives their parents the freedom to possibly drink alcohol. excessively. “
If the council passes second reading, the ordinance will expire in three years, meaning the council will have to vote again in 2024.
Steamboat first relaxed its alcohol orders during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when restaurants were under severe restrictions and looked for ways to continue selling alcohol without being able to seat customers at full capacity. capacity.
The city council then voted in July 2020 to allow public consumption in the city center, then later extended the same ordinance to the mountain area.
The Colorado legislature also voted to allow restaurants to serve take out alcohol until July 2025, although it did not extend the provision allowing alcohol consumption in right-of-ways, which means the city’s exception allowing consumption of open containers around Lincoln Avenue and Yampa Street has expired.
Because alcohol is no longer allowed in the rights-of-way, the city’s deputy attorney, Jennifer Bock, who presented the order to council, said community members still wanted a place to drink at the exterior of restaurants and private residences, and that restaurants always wanted a place for their take-out drinks to be consumed safely.
The new ordinance allows alcohol in all parks, but the Howelsen Hill complex has always been an exception to the city’s previous ban, which Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby says never caused any harm. problems in the city.
“The biggest impact we saw was just an increase in waste from increased use, and most of that waste actually ended up in cans,” Cosby said. “We have received a lot of confusing inquiries about where alcohol is allowed, so that would clarify some things.”
Although she supported the ordinance, board member Gail Garey expressed concern that additional plastic was being dumped in city parks.
“I think this has been a good thing in terms of our restaurants and supporting our local community through COVID, but as a self-proclaimed environmental person here, I don’t really support this from a creation perspective anymore. of waste, ”Garey said. “I would like to see some kind of transition from plastic to aluminum.”
Board member Dakotah McGinlay also said she was in favor of giving restaurants another way to support themselves, but felt that Steamboat lacked support for those trying to refrain from it. alcohol and wanted to consider adding additional fees for a liquor license to support mental health and addiction. upcoming recovery programs.
“If we can help the restaurants, how can we also support the recovery network that we so badly need in this city as well? McGinlay asked.
Although COVID-19 restrictions are no longer in place, Steamboat Springs Chamber CEO Kara Stoller said restaurants could still use the flexibility of the ordinance as staff shortages are likely to cause problems this season.
“Allowing businesses to have additional sales if they can’t accommodate these customers because they don’t have enough staff is helpful,” Stoller said.
Acting Steamboat Springs Police Department chief Jerry Stabile also said the department had not seen any spikes in alcohol-related problems since the first orders were passed in 2020.
Just 21 miles south of Steamboat, the town of Oak Creek began exploring a different policy at its meeting on Wednesday: only allow alcohol in parks for special events and charge multiple fees for doing so. , in addition to the permit fees for the event itself.
After what he said was a recurring problem with beer cans left in parks and vomit found in restrooms, Oak Creek Police Chief Ralph Maher asked city council to consider an ordinance requiring those who want to drink alcohol in a park be given an authorize and pay $ 25 for a one-time event and $ 10 per event for recurring events, like weekly hockey, which he says often includes alcohol .
Those wishing to drink alcohol in an Oak Creek park must also pay a refundable fee of $ 100. Similar to a security deposit on a rental unit, charges will be refunded if conditions are found to be acceptable.
“If we want to bring peace to your police chief and your police officers, I recommend that we continue to use common sense when confronted with these issues,” Maher said.
Still, Oak Creek Mayor Nikki Knoebel was concerned that the imposition of fees would penalize law-abiding citizens because she believed those who were going to cause trouble would likely continue to drink without a license.
“My adult friends would never do that, and that’s why I don’t want these adults spending money to be taken advantage of,” Knoebel said.
Maher said that while the $ 100 fee might seem high, he wanted to make sure residents were encouraged to leave a clean place.
Those who want to consume alcohol in the parks must also have an event permit, which means that a group spontaneously deciding to have a picnic or barbecue with alcohol would not be able to do so.
City council member Wendy Gustafson told Maher she was concerned that a group that followed the rules would be held accountable 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 using them.
“It comes with a time stamp built into the video, which avoids that particular problem of thugs coming out at 8:20 am and trashing the park,” Maher said.
Wednesday was a non-voting working session, so city council members took no votes.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email [email protected]