Orlando advances safety proposals as bar owners hope new measures won’t be punitive – Orlando Sentinel
Orlando commissioners have unanimously advanced policies to secure private parking lots, tweak its noise ordinance and require new nighttime businesses to have a safety plan.
The order has spawned a broader discussion about downtown safety, exacerbated by a mass shooting last month that injured seven people near Wall Street. No arrests have been made and the Orlando Police Department is still investigating, the department said Monday.
City officials said the proposals on Monday’s agenda were aimed at limiting the festival atmosphere on downtown streets on weekend evenings, when crowds of more than 15,000 fill over 100 bars and spill into the streets of the entertainment area. They say that atmosphere contributed to the violence, which included the killing last year of a 34-year-old army veteran on a crowded downtown sidewalk after bars closed for the evening.
A dozen bar owners and operators spoke to commissioners on Monday, saying they were not responsible for the violent incidents that took place last April and wanted to help create a safer town centre.
“We want to be a good partner for the city of Orlando,” said Doug Taylor, managing partner of Church Street Entertainment. “I think we can find solutions that end the violence and don’t kill businesses and jobs.”
After the mass shooting on July 31, Mayor Buddy Dyer set up security checkpoints where OPD officers checked for illegal firearms using gun-sniffing dogs. The city also plans to add metal detectors in the future, he said.
“I think the crowd is a little better under control. People who were carrying guns did not show up at checkpoints,” he said.
Taylor said his company supports checkpoints, even if it hurts their bottom line.
City Commissioner Regina Hill, whose district includes downtown, said the city should take steps to create a safer environment, without vilifying downtown bar owners who create the densest nightlife in the region.
“I don’t want us to start penalizing the same people who got us this far,” she said. “Guns are what harm our downtown. Before, people used to drink and fight in bars, now they carry guns.
Dyer also said the city isn’t considering extending or shortening the bar’s hours. Some landlords have pushed for changes, he said, arguing that staggered closing times would prevent a crush of people leaving at the same time, causing crowd in the streets after 2 a.m.
The changes the council voted on require security in private car parks, including when cars are parked after 10 p.m., as well as lighting and gates to block them after hours. The proposals also include stronger enforcement of the noise ordinance and requiring new bars to have a safety plan and a conditional use permit for pouring alcohol late at night.
“I think each of the little steps helps a little bit,” Dyer said.
Commissioner Jim Gray, whose district covers Lake Nona but works downtown, has frequently criticized the downtown atmosphere for not having enough variety of entertainment options.
Earlier this summer, in a pre-discussion of the proposals, he voted no alongside Commissioner Tony Ortiz, arguing the council needed to address the issue with a sense of urgency.
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The two signed on Monday. Gray said he was encouraged that so many bar owners got involved, but warned he saw the proposals as a first step towards improving the area.
“We have more things to do and we will do it,” he said.
Several entertainment owners and operators have also pushed back against some provisions of the city’s noise ordinance, which call for quieting certain noises they attribute to the festival atmosphere, as well as people who choose to drink and hang out. in parking lots, instead of racing in bars.
“It’s the logical connection of violence and noise that I have a philosophical difference with,” said Jeffrey Gitto, owner of several bars and restaurants in the neighborhood. “You can’t go from noise to gun violence without a lot of guesswork.”
The proposals, because they change a city ordinance, will require a second city council vote on Sept. 12.
“It will be an ongoing conversation, even after we get past this,” Dyer said.