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Parks board continues debating alcohol sales in parks

Wednesday, June 29, 2022 by Veronica Apodaca

The Austin Parks and Recreation Board debated Monday whether to approve a recommendation for City Council to create guidelines for the sale of alcohol in city parks in addition to those already found in city code.

The draft recommendation notes that, while city code “prohibits the sale, possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages within a public recreation area,” it also allows alcoholic beverages in some park spectating areas, campsites, “or when an approval authorizes the possession, sale or consumption by a person or for an event at a public recreation area.” The apparent contradiction has left some members wanting more direction.

At the previous board meeting, the Contracts and Concessions Committee was given instructions to further discuss the issue. Board Member Anna Di Carlo reported on the committee’s meeting, saying members discussed a resolution asking Council to provide guidelines for the board to follow when approving conditional use permits allowing vendors to sell alcohol in city parks.

The parks board has been working to address the debate over alcohol sales in parks for a while, including addressing individual applications for CUPs. On Monday, the board discussed one such application for a vendor at Republic Square. However, Board Member Laura Cottam Sajbel said examining applications on an individual basis rather than being able to apply set guidelines for approval was making the process more drawn out than necessary.

Some Austin residents, including families with children, argue that allowing alcohol to be sold in parks raises a safety concern. Cottam Sajbel said she had heard concerns from Austinites who say there is no need for alcohol to be sold in parks that are already located near bars and restaurants.

“Neighbors have said to me, ‘We have so many bars in this town, why do we need more alcohol?'” Cottam Sajbel said, adding that there is the possibility of people entering parks who are already inebriated or who have brought alcohol from outside locations into the park.

The board members’ goal on Monday was to be able to apply a universal set of guidelines for all vendors in all parks; however, members disagreed on whether there is a need for guidelines more specific than those already established by city code.

Board Member Nina Rinaldi disagreed with the idea of additional guidelines from City Council, saying those provided by city code were sufficient. “A CUP, to me, says that this is something that Council is asking these bodies to decide and evaluate on a case-by-case basis,” Rinaldi said. “We already have a process with some instructions for what to do.”

While the recommendation has already been drafted, the board did not take action on it Monday, voting for the issue to be returned to the Contracts and Concessions Committee.

Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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