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Oviedo discusses open alcohol containers in public areas

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It’s illegal to drink alcoholic beverages in public areas within the City of Oviedo.

But that could change. The Oviedo City Council directed city staff last Monday night to continue to research best practices for allowing residents to carry around alcoholic drinks while meandering through Oviedo on the Park and the historic downtown.

Currently chapter 6 of the city’s code of ordinances and chapter 15 of the Seminole County code of ordinances prohibit open containers in public rights of way and in parks.

“That would, at this time, preclude what we would like to do, but there are some avenues in which to remove those requirements,” said Assistant City Manager Patrick Kelly.

Three ways to do it

One option would be to establish a speciality center – something that exists in Tampa – which requires the area to have a “navigable body of water” and for the area to be an “entertainment area,” with retail, restaurants and bars.

Staff said there’s no state definition for a navigable body of water, so the retention ponds in Center Lake Park and Solary Park might pass the bar.

“We spoke to some experts in the field who are former employees of the (state) Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (ABT) and they feel that there is wiggle room in this request,” Kelly said.

Another option would be to deregulate the city, which would mean writing all penalties and licensing out of the city’s ordinances concerning alcoholic beverages – something the city of Gainesville did. Staff said this move was made during the pandemic when businesses moved operations into public areas in order to curtail the spread of the virus. Kelly said it was “not looked at favorably” by ABT but he said no businesses lost their licenses.

The city would still need Seminole County’s approval because of an overarching ordinance that prohibits alcoholic beverages in the parks.

The third option is to introduce a bill to the state legislature, but staff said this could be labor-intensive and uncertain.

“Even the most supportive of bills, with a lot of financial and other interest, with business, et cetera, supporting them through, the time often runs out on these bills and they get pushed off to another session. So, there’s no telling how long it would take or if we would be successful,” Kelly said.

Staff favored the specialty center option. Kelly said moving forward with any option could require hiring a consultant, which is currently not budgeted for.

Inspired by Savannah

Mayor Megan Sladek said the proposal doesn’t mesh with her vision for Oviedo.

“I get that people do it, they sort of secretly run from neighbor to neighbor (with alcoholic beverages),” she said. “I don’t know that we want to have Oviedo known as the place where you can get your bottle of rum and you meet up with all your friends at the park and you bring your own bottle of rum and you have a fun time there. It doesn’t jibe with the atmosphere that I kind of thought we were going for here.”

Deputy Mayor Bob Pollack, who asked staff to look into the issue in July, said his inspiration for the request was Savannah, Ga. He favored the deregulation option.

Councilman Keith Britton said that this option seemed to put the onerous burden on the individual businesses, since state alcohol sale licenses prohibit establishments from allowing patrons to open an alcoholic container and leave.

Councilwoman Natalie Teuchert said that she’s interested in the idea, but said the options that staff presented seem “questionable.”

“I definitely could see people wanting to grab a drink and walk around the lake and not get arrested,” she said. “I’m interested in revisiting it in a way where it’s around the park and it makes sense.”

The business side of it

She said that what’s being proposed is essentially what is currently happening each time the city hosts an event in Center Lake Park, only with this idea, the local businesses can get a piece of the action. She suggested that the city ask local businesses for their opinions on the matter.

“So, we’re trying to open that up for the restaurants to partake in that in our local commerce and I’m all about that, so if there’s a good way to make that happen, I’m totally in.”

Kelly said that in Tampa, people must buy a special cup, buy alcoholic beverages from establishments in the specialty center and then stay within that center while drinking.

“You buy the drink at the establishment and then you walk up and down, you shop, you enjoy your beverage of choice and you go eat and you enjoy the scenery, which I think is the intent of what Mr. Pollock was asking,” Kelly said.

Sladek argued that while this arrangement might work in places like Tampa and Gainesville, it would not be a good fit in Oviedo, which has fewer drinking establishments.

“If we were to have a situation where there was a special cup, is the idea that you would walk from bar to bar with your special cup? In Gainesville I see how this could work, or Savannah, because there’s enough there. And in Oviedo, there may be someday but, right now, people can walk a long way to find a new place to fill up their cup,” she said.

Sladek also worried that a move like this could hurt local businesses.

“I figured that would be an unident consequence, that it would lure people out of the building to go to a different restaurant from where they started out. That may actually hurt some of the businesses,” she said.

Pollack said this move offers more options for the patron.

“Think about the Food Factory that’s going in right now. You’ve got all these micro restaurants and you’ve got a bar in the center of it and you’ve got all that seating area and you’re telling everybody, OK, go get your drink, go sit in this area, but don’t cross that sidewalk right there or you’re in violation,” he said.

Staff said they’ll do more research and revisit the matter with the Council at a later date.

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