OCONTO – An outdoor beer garden next to Holtwood Park opened Friday, two days after a city committee failed to advance a proposed ordinance to regulate such a business.
The Yard Park and Bier Garden on the Oconto River was set to start serving after a ribbon cutting ceremony at 11 a.m., said Garrett Sowle, who owns the business with his wife, Courtney.
Sowle said the lack of action by the Building Inspection Ad Hoc Committee on Wednesday didn’t prevent them for opening, as they can operate under the provisions of a liquor license the city council approved last month.
“The ordinance they wanted to recommend in the previous meeting, that was to go above and beyond the state regulations that govern taverns as a whole,” Sowle said.
Sowle cited an example of The Garage, next to City Hall, which has a tent over tables and chairs where customers can enjoy drinks outside. That business, he said, operates under its liquor license and is not additionally regulated by the city.
The Yard, he said, is no different.
“We’re just operating under the state laws and regulations at the time, until they can figure out what additional ordinances that they want to put in place,” he said.
Courtney Sowle had said at a previous city meeting that they believed they didn’t need additional ordinances from the city, beyond the liquor license.
Garrett Sowle said they spoke Thursday with the mayor and other city officials about getting underway.
Mayor John Panetti, who Sowle said was going to cut the ribbon, declined to comment when reached by phone Friday morning.
City Administrator Brittney Bickel said the site was inspected by the police and fire chiefs.
Sowle said he and his wife are working with the city.
“If the council and the city as a whole determine if they want to implement additional ordinances and regulations for this specific property, that can happen at a later date,” he said.
At the meeting Wednesday, committee members were unable to agree on an ordinance regulating beer gardens.
The Oconto Building Inspection Ad Hoc Committee was presented with two different proposals on the wording of the ordinance.
“We haven’t had a chance to go through this,” Ron Daul complained and asked to table the issue.
Panetti said that would “only kick the can down the road.”
The primary issue was whether a beer garden operator would have to obtain a conditional use permit, or if it would be allowed by the ordinance outright.
Both proposed ordinances were based on a draft developed by Building Inspector Joe Last and the Sowles, who were seeking to open their property next to Holtwood Park and Campground as a beer garden.
City Attorney Frank Calvert augmented the draft with additional provisions of beer garden ordinances from other communities, covering items such as dates of operation, toilets and handwashing stations, open flame devices and parking.
Calvert told the panel they could “pick and choose however you want” from the provisions.
The second version — prepared by a private attorney on behalf of the couple — hewed more closely to the language hammered out between Last and Courtney Sowle.
The Sowles asked the committee to recommend their version to the City Council, which was scheduled to meet immediately afterward.
Among their objections was that Calvert’s version would require a conditional use permit.
The couple's version would allow a beer garden as a permitted use of the recreation-zoned property, with no further city action required. The City Council approved the rezoning and a liquor license on June 14.
Committee member John Wittkopf moved to recommend the Sowles’ version but to add a provision regarding open flames from Calvert’s.
Bickel, the city administrator, objected.
“If you’re looking for the speediest way to do it, that’s not the right thing,” she said.
The measure to approve the Sowles' proposal failed on a 3-3 tie, with Panetti, Wittkopf and committee chair Steve Stock voting yes, and Bickel, Daul and Fire Chief John Bostedt opposed.
The other two members of the committee, Police Chief Mike Rehberg and Superintendent of Public Works and Utilities, were absent.
Bickel then moved to accept Calvert’s version.
“That’s making (us) go through all the stuff I just went through again,” Courtney Sowle told the panel, including legal notice and notification of neighbors.
Bickel said that if the measure is approved as a permitted use, anyone with recreation-zoned property could put up a beer garden without further permission from the city.
“Personally, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” she said.
Bickel’s motion did not receive a second.
The vote to table broke down on the same lines, with Daul, Bostedt and Bickel voting yes and Panetti, Wittkopf and Stock opposed.
Courtney Sowle told the panel the concerns about beer gardens in other parts of the city were overblown.
“No one else can do what we’re doing right now and just pop up a beer garden,” she said. “They would have to get rezoned and have to be approved for a liquor license. That’s going to go for sure to Plan Commission and the council twice. It’s not really a free for all.”
Noting the divide over requiring a conditional use permit, Calvert said the council would be deciding in the meeting that night whether to enact conditional uses to allow for outdoor events and barn weddings.
“This really wouldn’t be any different,” the city attorney said. “I don’t know why we’re struggling with one over the other.”
The City Council didn't take up the issue at the following meeting. Bickel said the matter would be in the July agenda of the Building Inspection Ad Hoc Committee, which hasn't yet been scheduled.
Garrett Sowle said Friday it’s possible the city will end up rejecting the idea of creating another ordinance and allow them to operate like other bars with no additional requirements.
Bickel she supports business but believes an ordinance is needed to make sure it's operating safely.
“Safety of the public is No. 1,” she said.
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This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Oconto beer garden opens after ordinance fails to advance in committee