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Marion Ordinance Change Could Mean Less Separation Between Bars, Churches

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MARION, Iowa - A decades-old rule limiting just how close a business selling alcohol can locate near a church is up for debate in Marion this week. And the result could be a change in potential business development options in the central business district—more popularly known as Uptown Marion.

The Marion City council has set a public hearing for Thursday, January 23rd at 7:00 p.m. to consider amending the current ordinance. That ordinance regulates businesses that sell alcohol within 200 feet of both churches and schools. The proposed change would keep the distance rule for schools, but eliminate it completely for churches. Currently, businesses closer than 200 feet to a church can serve alcohol only if on-site alcohol sales make up less than 50 percent of total business.

Tom Treharne, planning and development director for Marion, said the proposal is a follow up to changes Marion made back in 2011. Then, city council members considered eliminating the distance rule but decided instead to allow businesses with less than 50 percent in sales from alcohol to qualify for an exemption.

Treharne said a request from one business owner to build a specialty brewing establishment with a public tap room sparked the latest effort to change the distance rule. Another Road Brewing, 1175 8th Avenue in Marion, would go into the basement of a law office building. Owner Jeff Robison said he could brew the beer in the basement without any ordinance changes. But allowing the public in and operating a tasting or tap room requires a revised ordinance. The proposed location is within 200 feet of two churches on 8th Avenue.

Treharne said with five church buildings and one school are located on the edges of the Uptown Marion district. He said the current distance rule limits potential development of an entertainment district. In fact, one city map shows the vast majority of uptown would be off limits to any new establishment wanting to serve alcohol without meeting the 50 percent other sales rule.

Treharne said city council members could vote on the proposed ordinance after the public hearing Thursday. It would take three successful readings, or votes by the council, for an ordinance rule to change.

Treharne said the last time, in 2011, the Marion City Council considered such a change there was some opposition from the churches in the area. He said this time the city has not received any communication from churches in opposition to the change.

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