Ottawa to amend alcohol in parks ordinance, but residents won’t be bringing their own to family gatherings

Majority of commissioners sided against allowing alcohol at park shelters

Alcohol will not be permitted at family outings any time soon at Ottawa parks, it appeared from conversation Thursday among the Ottawa City Council.

Commissioners reached a consensus to change the ordinance to allow for alcohol in Washington Square, the Jordan block and the former Central School site (sometimes referred to as Riverfront Park) for events, but the majority of commissioners were not in favor Thursday of allowing permitting for alcohol when residents reserve shelters at other parks. A formal vote wasn’t taken Thursday.

Mayor Robert Hasty said the ordinance needed to be changed to allow alcohol sales for festivals, because technically the ordinance on the books prohibits alcohol at all parks. Events such as the 2 Rivers Wine Fest at the Jordan block and Welcomeburger at Washington Square plan to serve alcohol.

Hasty asked commissioners if the council should expand the idea to allow residents reserving park shelters at Fox River Park and/or Allen Park to consume alcohol, as long as they give the city notice it will be present. Hasty said Ottawa police would be alerted and could check on the gathering to make sure laws are being followed.

Commissioner Tom Ganiere said he didn’t see a problem with allowing residents to bring alcohol to their family gatherings, but he said he would have the ordinance restrict glass bottles, because of the mess and hazard they can make when broken.

Commissioner Wayne Eichelkraut was opposed to allowing alcohol at Fox River Park, because of the proximity of the shelters to the splash pad and playground. He also didn’t like the idea of alcohol at Allen Park, which he said is a family park.

“I don’t think we should allow alcohol anywhere where there are playgrounds and children,” Eichelkraut said.

Commissioner Marla Pearson agreed, saying she liked the idea of limiting alcohol to the events at Washington Square, the Jordan block and former Central School site.

Also weighing in, Commissioner Brent Barron asked about the city’s liability if anyone were to get injured as a result of the city allowing alcohol in the parks. City Attorney Christina Cantlin said the city isn’t providing or selling the alcohol, so it would not be liable. During events, organizations sponsoring them must have their own insurance if they are providing or selling alcohol, Cantlin said. Barron didn’t support a change to the ordinance to allow residents to bring their own alcohol to the parks other than Washington Square, Jordan block and the former Central School site (he referred to as Voyagers Landing).

Hasty said the topic was a discussion item Thursday to get a sense of direction for how to draw up a new ordinance. The City Council will take a formal vote on allowing alcohol at specific parks during events at an upcoming meeting. Hasty said it was important to get the issue resolved before summer festival season.