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Beltrami County Board adopts 1 a.m. bar closing

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News Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
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Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Bars in Beltrami County must close by 1 a.m., according to a provision adopted Tuesday by the Beltrami County Board.

In the third and final reading, the board unanimously approved an amendment to the county's liquor ordinance which now prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages after 1 a.m.

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The move sets up an uneven bar closing time with the city of Bemidji, which last month failed to overturn its new ordinance to allow a 2 a.m. bar closing. It sets up the situation where drinkers could be forced out of bars near Bemidji at 1 a.m. only to drive into Bemidji for another hour of drinking.

"The City Council made its decision in a 3-3 tie vote," Bemidji Mayor Dave Larson said of that second vote that failed to overturn a December City Council vote allowing the 2 a.m. bar closing time.

"We hope the decision will result in the sale of property at the south shore," he said in an interview, explaining that the council's push for a 2 a.m. bar closing came at the request of a south shore developer that needed that time to secure Zorbaz's bar/restaurant as part of the condo development.

"Now it's a moot point," he said of the county's decision to create a different closing time. "One-one or two-two would have been fine, but two-one or one-two is a problem," said Larson, who was in the audience and wasn't asked to speak by county commissioners.

The different times "could be a problem," Larson said, but added that the city planned no further action at this time.

"We'll wait and see through the spring and summer if there are any more violations or accidents," Larson said, noting that no establishment has yet even asked for the later 2 a.m. license.

"And we'll see if the decision has an effect on the sale of south shore property," Larson added.

The County Board held its second reading and public hearing on its 1 a.m. provision on Feb.1, and heard mostly from people wanting the 1 a.m. closure. Commissioners said the same again Tuesday night.

Commissioner Jim Lucachick said his calls from constituents were "overwhelmingly" for the 1 a.m. closure. "Based on who elected me, I will support the 1 a.m. closing."

Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks and Commissioner Jim Heltzer echoed Lucachick.

"It is also the recommendation of the chief of police in Bemidji and the sheriff, whose analysis I support," added Heltzer. "There is also a cost of doing this (going to 2 a.m.) to human services. It just seems like a bad idea, as much as I'd like to cooperate with the city of Bemidji."

Constituents and citizens alike gave the same message of strong support for a 1 a.m. closing, said Commissioner Jack Frost. "I hear the city's reason for supporting a 2 a.m. closing, and I am sensitive to that.'

Board Chairman Joe Vene said the city's decision to go later at the urging of one establishment means "alcohol overarches the quality of life. ... Private enterprise has raised the fulcrum of a bar closing time."

He said that "we rise up in alarm and concern to do something about it, only to have alarm and concern subside because of the sale of south shore property," Vene said.

Vene asked for a roll-call vote.

The County Board in December asked for the three-reading process to adopt the measure to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages past 1 a.m. It also put in place a moratorium on requests to seek a 2 a.m. license from the state.

The county ordinance applies only to establishments outside of municipalities, which can make their own ordinances regulating bar closing time. Funkley, an incorporated city, allows its sole bar to remain open to 2 a.m.

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Pioneer staff reports
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