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College Station to pursue outdoor alcohol ban for Northgate

By SOMMER HAMILTON

Eagle Staff Writer

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College Station police said the numbers of misdemeanors and felonies in the Northgate area skyrocketed during the first 10 months of 2004 compared with all of 2003.

• Arrests for minor in possession have increased 92 percent, from 165 for 2003 to 317 so far in 2004.

• Public intoxication arrests have risen 130 percent, from 27 in 2003 to 62 so far in 2004.

• The number of drunken driving offenses has jumped 86 percent, from seven in 2003 to 13 already in 2004.

• Aggravated assaults have increased by 900 percent, from one in 2003 to 10 so far this year.

Source: Assistant Police Chief Scott McCollum

College Station officials will ask the state next month for approval to prohibit open alcohol containers in outdoor areas of Northgate, taking the first step toward banning public drinking in the district.

The City Council decided Thursday to take the issue before the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, which must give its blessing for the change. The city is asking that outdoor areas in the 9.8 acres bound by University Drive, First Street, Second Street and College Main be deemed a nondrinking zone except during special events.

If the commission approves the request, the city can enact an ordinance making open containers and public drinking in the area illegal.

Councilman John Happ cast the lone vote against the resolution, saying he wanted more time to see what those in the community thought about how the ban could affect Northgate.

Other council members, responding to concerns voiced by students and business owners during an impromptu public hearing held Thursday night on the issue, said they wanted meet with Northgate merchants before crafting the final ordinance.

“It empowers us to do the ordinance later, however we want, if we want it,” Councilman James Massey said of the resolution that will be sent to the TABC.

A couple of bar owners told the council Thursday they were in favor of eliminating kegs and cases of beer from outside areas but still wanted patrons to be able to purchase beer at beer-only establishments and bring the cup onto the Northgate promenade.

Some said they were concerned that Northgate would lose popularity and patrons would eventually go back to unregulated block parties instead of frequenting the well-known strip of bars.

“You worked real hard to make this an entertainment district,” Madhatters owner Daniel Brightwell told the council. “Now that we’ve got it an entertainment district, y’all are going to cut its leg off to not allow it to do its job anymore.”

Assistant Police Chief Scott McCollum told the council that people pulling up to the Northgate promenade with kegs and coolers full of beer are creating safety hazards by crowding the streets and drinking without regulation.

Crime at Northgate has increased since the keg parties in the promenade became popular in the spring, he said. Minor in possession arrests in the Northgate district have risen by 92 percent so far this year compared with all of 2003, he said, and public intoxication citations in the small area have jumped 130 percent.

The unregulated consumption of alcohol and the volume of people congregating also has contributed to more violent crowds, McCollum said. Ten aggravated assaults have been reported so far in Northgate this year compared to a single such assault last year.

“Drinking and youth are as explosive as gas and matches,” Councilman Robert Wareing said before voting in support of the open-container resolution. “It’s a no-brainer when an issue involves the safety of our citizens versus a chaotic situation.”

The council also approved a sweeping ordinance limiting the color and materials allowed in construction of developments bigger than 5,000 square feet. The ordinance also requires that green space, paver stones, trees or shaded walkways divide blocks of more than 120 parking spaces.

As part of the change, the council approved a 300-color palette of neutral tones with creams, greens, blues and some shades of maroon. Franchise stores and restaurants must enter a lengthy review process if they want to use colors outside the palette.

Smaller businesses will be allowed up to 15 percent of a single “accent” color that isn’t in the approved scheme, but for developments larger than 150,000 square feet, only 5 percent of the total color may be an accent.

Additionally, any buildings greater than 20,000 square feet are required to have 25 percent of their facades done in stone or brick. Metal surfaces also are limited to the roof and accent pieces on the facade, and to the back sides of buildings so long as those sides aren’t visible from a roadway.

The ordinance was approved with little comment from the development community during a public hearing on the standards Thursday. Businessmen and developers had previously met with the city administration to express their concerns and make some changes.

In other business, the council:

• Heard from a dozen residents of neighborhoods along Barron Road and Alexandria Avenue, all of whom spoke against the proposed relocation of Fire Station No. 3 to a 2.2-acre plot at the intersection of those roads.

The Texas Department of Transportation is expected to change the Earl Rudder Freeway feeder road — where the station is now located — to one-way traffic next fall. Officials say that requires moving the station so emergency crews have access to neighborhoods to the north and south.

Mayor Pro Tem Maloney — filling in for Mayor Ron Silvia, who is on vacation this week — told the dozens gathered that city officials would meet with community members before final approval on the site is given. The council agreed in June to purchase the land for $153,600 but the land is not yet officially city property.

n• Agreed to move ahead on negotiations to acquire 107 acres of land south of the city along Wellborn Road as a potential site for a second city cemetery. That site and another just west of Easterwood Airport are under consideration for a new cemetery, which city officials have said will be needed within the next three years.

City and Texas A&M University officials are awaiting appraisals on 45 acres of university-owned land off Raymond Stotzer Parkway. Land there could become a city cemetery with a special “Aggie Field of Honor” section reserved for former A&M students.

• Approved $678,313 for the design of Barron Road improvements to widen the current two-lane roadway to a four-lane street with bike lanes, a sidewalk and a median. Construction is set to begin by 2007 in the total $3 million project voters approved in the November 2003 bond election.

• Approved $458,485 to survey and design the second phase of work in Veterans Park and Athletic Complex, which will add three soccer fields with lights, three softball fields and a picnic pavilion, among other improvements. Voters approved the project, worth a total $7 million, in 2003. Construction is expected to start in 2006.

• Sommer Hamilton’s e-mail address is shamilton@theeagle.com.

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