Iowa City backs away from alcohol in park shelters

Council defers final vote after coalition cites concerns

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IOWA CITY — After approving two of three votes in favor of allowing alcohol in Iowa City park shelters, the Iowa City Council has changed course and put discussion of the matter on ice.

The Iowa City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to indefinitely defer the third and final consideration of an amendment to city code that would have allowed limited alcohol consumption in the shelters after permits are obtained.

Mayor Jim Throgmorton, co-leader of the Partnership for Alcohol Safety, said the partnership wrote the council, asking for the deferral.

“That’s why we’re at this moment,” he said.

Two Iowa City residents spoke at the meeting. Both opposed the amendment.

Current code prohibits alcohol in city parks unless the beverage is purchased from an authorized entity or site.

Other communities such as Coralville, Cedar Rapids, Ames and Cedar Falls have procedures for allowing alcohol consumption in at least some of their parks.

Following a resident’s request to consider permitting alcohol in park shelters, the council directed staff to explore an ordinance amendment.

The council voted twice — with council member Rockne Cole the lone vote against the measure — to approve the amendment.

In late August, with the third and final vote approaching, the Partnership for Alcohol Safety — a city and University of Iowa initiative geared at reducing high-risk drinking and promoting a vibrant downtown — weighed in on the proposal.

Members of the organization expressed concerns that loosening alcohol restrictions in park shelters would send a mixed message to UI students.

City staff then recommended indefinite deferral of the final vote.

Simon Andrew, assistant to the city manager, said the city could pick up discussion of the matter at a later date, adding city staff did not have strong feelings in support or opposition to the amendment.

While shelter signs notify visitors that alcohol is banned in city parks, Andrew said alcohol is present from time to time. Problems with drunk or unruly park goers are rare, he added.

“When we clean out the trash at park shelters, there are frequently empty containers that indicate this goes on, but we seldom have any issues that would draw attention to it,” Andrew said.

l Comments: (319) 339-3175; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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