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Going Through the Motions (July 17 & 18)

We attend City Council so you don't have to

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If you're an entrepreneur hoping to open a bar on the South Side, you'd better try to run that liquor-license application through the system pretty soon or you'll find yourself needing to fill out other paperwork first, like a zoning variance.

Pittsburgh City Council passed preliminary legislation limiting the number of bars in area neighborhoods. Councilor Jeff Koch's plan technically affects other neighborhoods, including Lawrenceville and East Liberty, keeping them from getting too saturated with taverns as well.

Under the law, any area zoned "neighborhood commercial" that is more than two million square feet can have one liquor license for every 50,000 square feet. The South Side is well past its saturation point while other commercial corridors, such as Penn Avenue in Bloomfield and Lawrenceville's Butler Street, could add another 30 to 35 bars before hitting the limit.

What that means for the South Side is, you can still put a bar there, but it's going to take special approval from council to do so. Either that or a really good lawyer.

"This will probably end up challenged in court, but hopefully it will stand up," said Councilor Jim Motznik. Residents packed a July 11 public hearing complaining of noise problems as well as random acts of urination on their properties.

All council members lauded the legislation and council President Doug Shields said the city wouldn't have had to take such action if the state Liquor Control Department did its job. He said the board indiscriminately hands out the licenses without taking the residents into account.

And what about those who might say that the South Side is an entertainment destination and residents should expect some irritation?

"This isn't like when somebody buys a house next to a ballpark and then complains when the lights come on at night," said Councilor Dan Deasey. "In that case, the lights and the ball park were there when you moved in.

"But on the South Side you've got residents who have lived there for their entire lives."

Bill 2007-1501: In last week's column, we joked that Motznik's cat-licensing legislation wasn't likely to "land on its feet," due to lack of support. In a move that Motions is sure was designed to make us look bad, Motznik's measure was, as of press time, just one vote away from passage.

Needing five votes to pass, Motznik got surprise support from councilors Twanda Carlisle, Len Bodack and Tonya Payne. Members Shields, Deasey, Bill Peduto and Darlene Harris voted against the measure.

When it came time for Koch to cast his vote, he abstained, as members occasionally do if they want a chance for further reflection before the final vote. Koch gave no reason for his abstention. The final tally brought a smile to Motznik's face, who prior to the vote said he had planned on tabling the measure due to lack of support.

All of this drama leads to the final vote on July 24 and our quote of the week:

"I think there's a golf outing the cat folks want to invite you to." -- Peduto to Koch after Koch's abstention, taking a swipe at Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's $27,000 charity golf outing with officials of the Penguins and UPMC.

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