No, Jason, a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) can’t enhance walkability when there isn’t any to begin with

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In fairness, and in most significant respects, living in New Albany is not the same as living in the Soviet Union of old. However, there is one prominent similarity. During the Brezhnev period of stagnation in the USSR, sentient Soviet citizens learned to parse the regime’s propaganda by dismissing it as 100% false until proven otherwise.

Bits and pieces might ultimately be factual, but most of it was self-serving drivel. This is an extremely useful mechanism to deploy in Jeff Gahan’s top-down New Albany, where just about anything the ruling clique says is gibberish, although as if by accident, periodic nuggets of truth are seen to be gleaming in the bed pan.

Such is the case with the city’s haste to emulate New Orleans and Copenhagen by encouraging open air consumption of alcoholic beverages, forgetting as always that we cannot be what we’re not, and we cannot become what we might be without the cool kids reading a damn book for once.

First, an overview, followed by the statement I submitted on this matter.

Council to consider ‘outdoor refreshment area’ in downtown New Albany, by Brooke McAfee (Jeffersonville News and Tribune)

NEW ALBANY — A proposed ordinance would allow people to carry alcoholic beverages outside in downtown New Albany.

This year, legislators approved a new law that allows cities or towns to establish a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA). The law includes exemptions from certain open-container laws for these designated areas.

At Monday’s meeting, the New Albany City Council will consider an ordinance to create a DORA in the downtown area. The city would also need approval from the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to establish the district.

With the creation of a DORA, licensed businesses would be able to sell alcoholic beverages for consumption in the designated area of downtown. Customers would not have to stay in the places the beverages were purchased while consuming the drink.

To: City Clerk Vicki Glotzbach and City Council President Jennie Collier

From: Roger A. Baylor, 1117 E. Spring Street, writing as a private citizen

Re: Comment about G-23-04, the “DORA” ordinance

Thanks for reading my comment into the evening’s council minutes. My topic is G-23-04.

To operate a business, large or small, is to understand that one must labor under the guidance of regulations, quite few of which are optional. Some regulations are simple, others not so much. A boutique owner must pay sales tax. A restaurant manager understands that the county health department’s writ cannot be ignored.

And, an alcoholic beverage permittee in Indiana pays close attention to the playbook as written and enforced by the Alcohol & Tobacco Commission (ATC), because failing to do so can result in shutdowns and hefty fines.

The ATC’s expectations extend far beyond the familiar (“don’t serve minors”), into the esoteric: floor plans, entrances and exits, exactly how to conduct last call, and one of my personal favorites, the requirement to prevent alcoholic beverages from outside the exterior doors from coming inside along with their bearers.

Most New Albany establishments possess Riverfront Development Area three-way permits, and as special classes of permits go, these do not include carry-out privileges. As such, no alcoholic beverages are supposed to go out, and none are to be allowed in.

It makes working the door a sheer delight at Harvest Homecoming each year, unless the permittee in question has carry-out privileges, but even so, the outside alcohol still is obliged to remain outside.

It’s also worth observing that unless one is employed at a bar or restaurant, the ATC’s playbook is genuinely incomprehensible, though no less potentially injurious if disobeyed.

I’ve given up trying to explain to roving drinkers during Harvest Homecoming that they can’t take the beers out of Pints&union, or bring them inside. Instead, I say “we don’t have the right type of license for that” and it works most of the time—and I’m 6 feet 4 inches and weigh 250 lbs., which helps in terms of persuasiveness.

I don’t mean to shatter illusions, but John Q. Public neither reads ATC ordinances nor pays attention to signage. ATC permittees simply cannot run their businesses imagining they will start, any time soon.

In short, alcoholic beverage permittees recognize that in the overall scheme of regulatory matters, they possess few if any “rights,” and dozens, hundreds or maybe even thousands of responsibilities.

Conversely, the ATC is a policing and tax collection agency. It doesn’t make the rules, but it determines how to administer the rules as they are enacted, abolished, altered and disfigured by the state legislature – and this brings me to DORA, the “Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area.”

DORA comes to us from the legislature, but as offered before the common council, it’s the latest in a long, sad line of city hall panaceas meant to enhance something (in this instance, the seldom experienced phenomenon of “walkability”) that the city of New Albany has most certainly NOT accomplished to date, primarily because achieving real walkability is hard, while making hollow declarations to allow drinking in public is far easier, after which yet another imaginary bogus victory can be declared, Republicans blamed for whatever goes wrong, and someone else down the road is left to deal with precisely the same absence of concrete results.

As I understand it, the state of Indiana currently does not prohibit open containers of alcoholic beverages in public places. In cars, yes, but not on the sidewalk. The law is silent; therefore, open containers are allowed until they are prohibited, although laws against public intoxication are very real, and having an open container in public definitely might be construed as probable cause for public intoxication charge.

Consequently, as it stands, if I’m willing to dodge speeding drivers staring at their phones amid futile efforts to cross the street using the Gahan’s administration’s legendarily ineffective HWC Engineering pedestrian crosswalks, which have yet to be even remotely helpful six years after they were installed, I can choose the risk of walking in New Albany with a nice red Solo cup of beer in my hand, filled with locally brewed beer and not that Bud Light garbage, and expect (but “hope” or “pray” are better words) that in the absence of overt misbehavior or being struck by a driver, I’ll be left alone, with no one the wiser.

And, there is no law prohibiting me from carrying my red Solo cup into any business that is NOT licensed by the ATC, although I couldn’t take it into a bar or restaurant by virtue of the aforementioned ATC licensing restrictions.

Actually it’s unclear why any bar or restaurant with an ATC permit would WANT me to bring beer into their establishment even if the ATC did allow it (recall, it does not), because the profitability of alcoholic beverages is nothing to sneeze at, and you’d like to earn those profits with YOUR food and drink.

Does anyone open a bar or restaurant with the notion that letting customers bring their own food and drink is a good idea?

Of course, a boutique might elect to ban beverages of any sort from their premises, for whatever reason they wish, and they have a perfect right to do this (as customers, we bear the RESPONSIBILITY to honor their wishes).

What exactly is achieved by DORA, which in effect creates a hitherto unknown RIGHT to imbibe publicly where currently such a course is possible in the breach, without any explicit statements of intent? From the perspective of enforcing civility on the sidewalks, hasn’t the present legal apparatus of purposeful ambiguity been highly effective for decades?

If it has been, then why alter it?

At least pending the ATC’s clarifications, which as of today haven’t even been issued yet, alcohol permittees who previously were not allowed to sell carry-out alcoholic beverages may do so under DORA, albeit only if they use city logo plastic cups at their own expense (thus in effect paying for city hall’s shameless anchor political advertising, though I digress).

I can’t speak to New Orleans, but drinking in public in places like Europe (where I’ve often been) works only because municipalities take care of the supporting infrastructure first. To be succinct, these cities really are walkable.

They already have public restrooms. There are buses, trolleys and trams. To repeat, here we’ve done almost nothing in New Albany to set the walkability table apart from bragging about conditions that frankly remain non-existent. We seem to enjoy make-believe hereabouts.

There’s also the physical immensity of the area being designated for the DORA, which seems to be designed by city hall (albeit somewhat clumsily) to correspond with the riverfront development area, although it is clear to me after reading about other examples of DORA elsewhere in America that such a zone’s effectiveness is improved by being smaller, not larger.

To be blunt, do downtown residents really want more outdoor partying, as opposed to less?

Can any sane human being make the case for drinkers walking in greater numbers along thruways like the perpetually noisy, car-centric Spring Street, which drivers presently use like an interstate, absent any discernible interest from the city in calming traffic or enforcing existing ordinances of the sort that might improve walkability?

And, in this perennial absence of meaningful ordinance enforcement, do residents really believe the city will be enforcing those “DORA ends here” signs, or for that matter, the drunken behavior accompanying the entire senseless exercise?

Would you like to know who WILL bear the responsibility for DORA is anything goes wrong, if the city refuses?

Why, it’s those same alcoholic beverage permittees, who’ll have fingers pointed at them, even though there’ll likely be no windfall profits to assuage the pain, just an ATC officer tracing a soiled anchor logo cup back to one of us, at which point those city hall guarantees about “having our backs” will be just as toothless-by-intent as the 25 mph speed limit is downtown at present.

Who exactly is lobbying for DORA among the business community? Or is this another example of the top-down, “we know what’s best for you” illogic we’ve seen so often in the past?

Speaking only to my brethren in the booze biz, I’d caution you to be fully comfortable with the ATC ramifications before getting too enthused about DORA. You’re Charlie Brown, and city hall is Lucy. That shiny football you see probably is not going to be kickable, although there’s a first time for everything.