Council to get thumbs-up recommendation on gambling

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

The city’s Public Safety Committee will return a recommendation to the City Council to approve Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments, without attaching any parking requirement to the proposed ordinance.

The committee met following the April 24 council meeting to review a memo from the city attorney outlining the city’s options on the issue.

The council is considering whether to pass an ordinance legalizing Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments at local business establishments at the request of James Ashcraft, owner of Chewey’s Tavern.

After the request, Joel Keesecker, who owns a neighboring insurance business and parking lot, told the City Council he thought the new activity would create more problems for him during tournaments, increasing the amount of garbage left on his parking lot.

The Public Safety Committee, which was charged with putting together a recommendation to the City Council on the tournaments, began looking at ways to tie a parking requirement to a tournament license.

The idea would be to have the person running the tournament tell the city how many parking spaces are available during the licensing process, Police Chief Bob Burford said. It appeared to be a compromise that would not necessarily make everyone happy but would be acceptable for those involved.

But the concept wasn’t as simple as that.

City Attorney Robert Snyder talked with Community Development Director Carol Lewis about the ramifications of off-street parking requirements being placed in the proposed Texas Hold ‘Em ordinance.

She informed him that it would be a land-use issue and would need to follow the land-use hearing process, Snyder said. This includes notification of all property owners in the zone to be affected, which would include all downtown commercial property owners; a public hearing before the Planning Commission; a public hearing before the City Council; and then passing the ordinance following three readings.

Right now, the downtown commercial zone does not require any off-street parking, and if the city is considering adding a parking requirement for Texas Hold ‘Em, Snyder said, then the question is whether other uses that generate similar large groups of persons should be addressed at the same time, such as Community Center functions, club functions, lodge functions, motels, taverns, theaters and government offices, all of which are allowed in the downtown commercial zone without parking requirements at this time.

Those activities can cause the same problem as Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments with the use of nearby private parking lots because no other facilities are available or because the private lot is the nearest to the gathering, he said.

He outlined six options for the Public Safety Committee:

One, pass the ordinance without parking provisions, allowing parking standards to remain as they are now.

Two, investigate the requirements that would be needed to require parking near an establishment hosting a tournament or other gatherings and then change the ordinance to reflect those requirements.

Three, allow Texas Hold ‘Emtournaments in zones where an off-street parking requirement already exists.

Four, pass the ordinance and place off-street parking requirements in the ordinance following a land use process, keeping in mind the issue of gatherings of people within the zone for other functions.

Five, table the Texas Hold ‘Em ordinance proposal until downtown parking issues are looked at, beginning with a review of the Downtown Parking Study of May 21, 1998.

Six, not pass the Texas Hold ‘Em ordinance.

“I really don’t see the need to table this idea,” Councilor Scott McKee Jr. said.

Councilor Jim Bean agreed, saying the council knows what the concerns are.

Bean said it was time to move forward with the ordinance without parking restrictions and “let them fall where they might.”

“We do know we have parking concerns downtown we’ll have to address, but it shouldn’t be on the shoulders of this particular issue.”

McKee said the council needs to deal with “something that’s come up multiple times, and it’ll keep coming up.”

Like many issues, parking is an ongoing concern, Bean said.

At the recent Sweet Home Fire and Ambulance District awards banquet, McKee said he had a number of people talk to him about it. They told him the council should just get the ordinance done.

“There’s definitely a lot of people that just want to get it taken care of,” McKee said. “It’s a separate issue that needs to be taken care of as a separate issue.”

Parking is something the city should get going, working with the Chamber of Commerce, Bean said.

The two councilors agreed to take a recommendation to approve the ordinance without any parking restrictions to the full council on May 8.

The council meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. in the council chamber located in the City Hall Annex behind City Hall.

Bean, McKee, Burford and Snyder attended the Public Safety Committee meeting.