Artmosphere Bistro in Lafayette receives 6-month reprieve on liquor license requirement _lowres

Advocate staff photo by LESLIE WESTBROOK -- Artmosphere Bistro is pictured Tuesday, September 1, 2015, at the corner of East Convent and Johnston Street in Lafayette, La.

The Lafayette City-Parish Zoning Commission is scheduled to begin discussions Monday on whether to end the 13-year-old ban on new bars in downtown Lafayette.

The City-Parish Council last month asked the commission to research allowing bars as a conditional use under downtown’s zoning code, which would open the door for new bars as long as they meet certain requirements and receive the blessing of the council and the commission.

Yet to be determined is what those requirements might be.

Planning, Zoning and Development Director Carlee Alm-LaBar said her staff plans to craft a proposal based on input from the commission, the Downtown Development Authority, residents and business owners in the downtown area and anyone else who might have an interest in the issue.

“The hope is to get a proposal that everyone can get behind,” she said.

The council instituted the bar ban in 2003, prompted by concerns about a spate of new bars moving in along Jefferson Street at the time.

Downtown properties with bar permits when the ban passed can continue to operate as bars, even if ownership of the property or the bar changes.

The ban has been criticized as a barrier to a more vibrant entertainment district and for protecting questionable bars that might otherwise fail had the ban not established a de facto monopoly for certain locations.

If the ban is lifted or altered, the regulations for bars downtown need to be revisited to give officials more flexibility in addressing problems, said Downtown Development Authority CEO Nathan Norris.

Under the current regulations, city-parish government has only one real option in dealing with complaints — shut the bar down.

It’s a blunt tool that is rarely used.

“We need a more responsive system,” he said.

Norris said the DDA would like to see better measures in place to address such issues as the size of bars, noise and criminal behavior, but the agency does not plan to make a proposal at this time on what specific changes should be made.

“We are fully participating in the discussion. We are not leading it,” he said.

Talk of revisiting the ban began last year when the downtown music venue Artmosphere Bistro faced possible closure.

Artmosphere has struggled to keep food sales above 50 percent — a requirement to keep selling alcohol under its restaurant liquor permit — and the business is not eligible for a bar permit because of the 2003 ban.

The state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control last year gave Artmosphere a reprieve pending possible changes to the zoning law on bars downtown.

The Zoning Commission meets at 5:30 p.m. Monday in Building B in the city-parish offices at 220 W. Willow St.