Ocala tightens over-21 bar law
Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
OCALA — A city law banning customers under 21 from lounges and clubs that serve liquor continues to undergo a string of changes two years after it went into effect.
Tuesday night, the Ocala City Council narrowed existing exemptions to the law previously carved out for restaurants, pool halls and bowling alleys. The move is intended to keep the establishments from doubling as nightclubs while still allowing people who are 18 and older.
While narrowing some exemptions, the City Council also created another exemption for comedy clubs, with a new club, JokeBoys, expected to open downtown in March.
While comedy club owners may be smiling, the council voted down other proposed exemptions for bars hosting concerts, "dance studios" and "dual-use" businesses that may operate like restaurants or pool halls during the day and dance clubs at night.
Each vote went 4-1, with Councilman Daniel Owen voting no. Owen has consistently argued the ban suffers from double standards and does not curb underage drinking.
The City Council originally adopted the patron age restrictions law in January 2005 on the recommendation of the Community Council Against Substance Abuse — an advisory board of government officials including City Council members Kyle Kay and Mary Sue Rich.
Since then, business owners have argued that the law hurts their business. But Tuesday night, victims of drunken driving crashes turned out and asked the City Council not to weaken the law.
Ocala's Alicia Calloway said seven years ago, when she was an 18-year-old Central Florida Community College student, she nearly died when a drunken, underage driver of the vehicle she was in crashed while drag racing. She walked with the aid of a cane at Tuesday's meeting.
"The plans I had for my future changed because of an underage drunk driver," she said.
Mike Kohn, owner of Bankshot Billiards, a local pool hall that expanded to operate as a dance club at night, said responsible business owners would take measures to prevent underage drinking while allowing those 18 and older.
"We've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and with the stroke of the pen you are putting us out of business," Kohn said.
The "dual-use exemption" that the City Council shot down would have allowed Kohn's business to allow 18- to 20-year-olds to play pool during the day, while barring those under age 21 in the club at night. Now customers must be 21 and older during all business hours.
Likewise, local nightspot Posh 27 will not be allowed to have 18 and up when it is a restaurant for lunch and dinner because it is a dance club at night.
The concert and dance studio exemptions voted down were requested by Midnight Rodeo in the Pine Plaza. The concert exemption could have allowed 18 and older in for a live musical performance by a signed recording artist. The "dance studio" exemption, which Owen suggested, would have allowed 18 and older at a business offering paid or free "dance lessons."
Deputy Police Chief Greg Graham said that exemption would open loopholes to the age restrictions law.
"If you're going to allow that exemption you might as well repeal the ordinance," he said.
The tightened language for restaurant and pool hall exemptions will prohibit a cover charge, limit the size of a dance floor and eliminate "ladies drink free" specials for a business to allow patrons under 21.
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