DECATUR, Ala. -- Decatur City Council has approved rezoning the Point Mallard Ice Skating Complex area, which would clear the way for alcohol sales at the rink.
The move would rezone the complex to a classification that would allow for alcohol sales, particularly beer and wine, planners said.
The original proposal had included rezoning the whole park, but council president Paige Bibbee said they heard residents' concerns and updated the request to only rezone the 4.3 acres that encompass the ice rink complex. The council also voted on a separate rezoning plan that affects nearly 13 acres west of Point Mallard Drive, which would keep alcohol out of that property between the rink and the residential area.
"We felt like we were working with the neighborhood, who were very concerned about doing this. And the aquatic center use, which is a very child-oriented use. And we have baseball fields, little league soccer, that kind of thing. We have a campground. We felt like those areas could only have a special event, they could not just sell alcohol," said Karen Smith with the city's planning department.
She said the groups of adults that use the ice rink requested to be able to have alcohol available while they're there.
"Beer and wine particularly," she said. "We hope to be able to make that available to the curling league and any ice hockey groups that are interested in using it."
We asked her when the alcohol would be available. She said they'll be working with the Parks and Recreation Department to find a suitable time, but it would include consideration about when the ice is being used for more "grown-up" uses.
Some have criticized the council members for a lack of transparency on this issue. But Bibbee said there have been public meetings and handouts on the subject. She also believed the neighborhoods to be largely okay with the compromise, and noted the golf course already has alcohol for sale.
But Charles Kirby, a council member, said public parks should all be zoned the same, and the government getting involved is bad business. He is of the opinion that alcohol should not be sold in the rink.
Council member Billy Jackson said he is fine with alcohol, but not at that location. He said golf is different from the ice rink, and he can understand the desire to have it there but that the rink is family-oriented and should remain the way it is.
At a public hearing on the issue, Don Gowan spoke up.
He brought up safety issues, and added, "Recently, the ability of visitors to the park to carry guns onto the park surfaced. Surely this council does not want to mix alcoholic beverage sales and guns into the family environment which could lead to injury or death in the park. This council is about to make one of the most important decisions it could ever make for the safety of our children and citizens in their enjoyment of Point Mallard Park and the ice rink complex as a clean, wholesome facility for recreation and fun."
But other citizens said they are fine with the measure.
"I personally do not even drink alcohol and I support this as a way to continue bringing in people to the ice rink," said one citizen. He added, "It's not being sold when little kids are skating or when a youth group rents out the park. It's even for certain events... I have 4 kids of my own who could be easily affected by this situation. I fully support it."
City officials said the groups who want to have alcohol sold would still have to consult the city and go through a process.
Council member Chuck Ard said he supports the measure, and his son helped start a league at the ice complex. Kirby had asked him to abstain for that reason, but Ard said he would be voting as planned.
"I resent the fact that you think I should abstain. I am not going to abstain from this. I am not the one who is curling. I happen to think it's good for Decatur," he explained.
He pointed out that the farmer's market is in an arts and entertainment zone.
"If you want to tell me that this is about alcohol sales and going to children, that's b.s.," he said.
He added that the decision could always be reversed with another vote down the road.
The rezoning vote was divided 3-2, with Jackson and Kirby dissenting. The same 3-2 divide occurred on the second rezoning vote for the 12.78 acres adjacent to the ice complex.