Calling an hours-long public debate Thursday on Irving’s strict alcohol laws a “tale of two cities,” Mayor Beth Van Duyne proposed different alcohol rules for different neighborhoods. Though one council member called the plan illegal, many in a divided crowd of hundreds seemed to like it and quietly departed City Hall after midnight, expecting the council to return in two weeks and vote on the mayor’s plan.
South Irving residents had spent the night warning the City Council of bars, prostitutes, drunken drivers or murders if the city raised the alcohol sales limit on Irving’s restaurants. But for every resident opposed to relaxing the 31-year-old law, a business owner or executive warned of economic ruin in north Irving if it didn’t. Through church meetings, emails and robocalls, word spread all week through the aging neighborhoods of south Irving that the council might vote Thursday to relax a law that bans bars in Irving. Encouraged by businesses and developers in Irving’s northern neighborhoods, a city commission had recommended letting restaurants make up to 70 percent of their annual sales through alcohol, nearly double the current limit of 40 percent.
“I am against an ordinance that will enhance Las Colinas and north Irving and destroy the south,” said Margie Stipes, a school board trustee’s mother and one of more than 50 speakers at Thursday’s five-hour meeting. But Stipes and her neighbors were matched by executives who took the podium to say that the current law was crippling development in Las Colinas, the stagnant heart of Irving’s tax base. “Our project cannot and will not move forward without relief on alcohol,” said Benjamin Pisklak, chief investment officer for the developer behind a $125 million dining and retail development that officials hope will revitalize Las Colinas.
For weeks, council member Joe Putnam had been trying to gain his colleagues’ support for a compromise that would lift the alcohol cap to 50 percent. He said he was appalled when the mayor announced a plan to let some Las Colinas restaurants sell more alcohol but keep the old laws in south Irving. “What they’re doing is setting up two standards in Irving,” Putnam, a lawyer, said after the meeting. “I think it’s invalid, and I think it’s illegal.” The mayor said the proposal had been cleared by city lawyers and state alcohol regulators. “You always have a potential to open yourself up for a lawsuit,” she said. “But I’m going to choose to be progressive.”
While details and maps of the proposal were still being worked out Friday afternoon, Van Duyne said it would let restaurants in Las Colinas, Valley Ranch and along some highway and rail corridors petition the city for a higher alcohol limits. A subcommittee will study the plan until Jan. 24, when the council is expected to vote on it. Putnam was only the council member at Thursday’s meeting to oppose the plan but said later it will probably pass. “I don’t think there are two Irvings,” council member Brad LaMorgese said at the meeting. “But I appreciate the idea we treat different areas differently.”