A music venue’s efforts to secure a bar license could lead to a re-evaluation of city-parish government’s 2003 ban on new bars downtown.
The Lafayette Zoning Commission on Monday deferred action on a request by Artmosphere Bistro to be carved out of the Central Business District, a change that would free the business to seek the bar permit its owner says is essential to staying in business.
The commission opted instead to hold off after member Bruce Conque called for a review of the 2003 bar ban, saying it has perhaps led to unintended consequences.
Downtown Development Authority CEO Nathan Norris also asked the commission for more time.
Norris said he wants to keep open a business he calls a cultural asset, but does not want to set the precedent of business owners unhappy with downtown’s rules searching for relief through rezoning.
Under current rules, only downtown properties with bar permits in 2003 can continue to operate as bars.
But Norris suggested revisiting those rules to possibly let Artmosphere or other businesses secure new bar permits subject to certain conditions, allowing local government better oversight over who receives permits and greater flexibility in dealing with problem establishments.
Those conditions have yet to be hashed out.
“The devil is in the details,” he said.
Artmosphere owner Beryl Moody has sold alcohol at her popular offbeat and artsy music venue for years, but she has been operating with a restaurant liquor permit and has come under increasing pressure from the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control to keep food sales above 50 percent of her total revenue — a requirement to keep the permit.
It’s a mark she has had difficulty hitting, despite expanded food offerings and efforts to market the food side of her business.
Losing the restaurant liquor permit would mean alcohol sales would have to stop.
“Basically, we just want to continue as we are without being shut down because of a zoning issue,” she told the commission on Monday.
City-parish leaders have generally been sympathetic to her cause, and City-Parish Councilman Brandon Shelvin, who represents the downtown area, asked the commission on Monday to grant Artmosphere’s rezoning request.
“We live in a capitalistic society, and all this lady is trying to do is to keep her business open,” Shelvin said.
While the councilman supports an exception for Artmosphere, Shelvin said he is skeptical of tinkering with the overall ban, and any change to downtown’s zoning rules would ultimately need council approval.
As part of the delay approved Monday, the commission will ask the state ATC to hold off on an upcoming review of Artmosphere’s food sales.
Conque said ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert had already given a tentative OK to not taking any action while city-parish government reviews downtown bar regulations.
Moody said after Monday’s commission meeting she would have rather secured the rezoning and still feels anxious about the future of her business.