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Bars’ good neighbor system tossed

Dispute-resolution process proposed as alternative

Spokane city officials and representatives of the Spokane Alliance of Bars and Restaurants announced Tuesday a proposed procedure that would replace the contentious “good neighbor” agreements.

For the past several years, the city has used good neighbor agreements to prevent bars and restaurants from becoming a nuisance to neighbors. They were tailored to tackle problems specific to a business and the neighborhood in which it is located.

The new proposed procedure came after business owners in the alliance – also called SABR – complained to the city, saying the agreements didn’t give businesses owners enough a voice in disciplinary process. Further, they said the agreements were arbitrary, lacked oversight from an outside party and appeared to unfairly target certain businesses.

Now, the city and alliance members have agreed on the new procedure; the City Council still needs to vote on it.

The plan creates a Community Advisory Board, with members from a restaurant/entertainment facility, a business, Spokane police, Spokane fire and a designee of the Spokane City Council.

Businesses that experience numerous police visits or code violations will first be able to work with police to find solution. If that fails, or if they dispute the problem, the business could go to the Community Advisory Board, which would hear the issues and suggest a solution agreeable to both parties.

“It’s a dispute resolution board where owners can take their problems or the city can take their problems to an unbiased board,” said City Administrator Ted Danek. “It does allow them to go to an outside party besides the city and have an outside group look at what they’re doing.”

If the business refuses to comply with the agreement, the city could seek revocation of its Entertainment Facility License before a hearing examiner.

The proposed system also would allow businesses to stay open while awaiting a hearing, unlike the Good Neighbor Agreements system, which required any business accused of violating an agreement to close its doors in the interim. Many business owners complained they would go out of business long before the hearing took place.

Mayor Mary Verner called the proposed plan a success.

“We have developed a collaborative solution that provides greater predictability for both the city and the businesses and allows for a defined avenue for us to hear all sides of an issue,” she said. “The businesses’ side and the city’s side.”

SABR’s lawyer, Jerry Davis, said the two groups acted quickly to find a solution.

“It was something I didn’t foresee coming to a conclusion for a very long time,” Davis said. “We started out in a pretty contentious debate, if you will, but we met in the middle ground. We worked really well together.”

Within the city limits, about 290 businesses have on-premise liquor licenses and about 75 of those establishments have Entertainment Facility Licenses, according to a city news release. A small percentage of those have ongoing public safety issues of concern to the city.


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