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Thursday, November 30, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nickels offers plan to regulate city nightclubs

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels unveiled proposed rules Wednesday that would give City Hall more power to discipline bars and nightclubs that become nuisances to their neighbors.

The rules, which now go to the City Council, aim to strike a balance between vibrant nighttime businesses and residents, whose numbers are growing as the pace of condominium development quickens.

The rules could affect about 300 businesses, mostly bars or clubs. Most restaurants would not be considered nightspots under the proposal.

A task force of club owners and neighborhood representatives appointed by Nickels examined ordinances in about a dozen cities and drew up the proposed rules.

"When a small number of clubs use the majority of our police resources, that's a problem," Nickels said at a City Hall news conference. "Violent clubs will be shut down, and complaints will be responded to quickly."

Previously, the city relied on the state Liquor Control Board to act in response to neighbors' complaints about public safety. The board suspended the liquor license of a Lower Queen Anne nightclub, Mr. Lucky, after a triple shooting there in April. The board had received 11 complaints against the club over the previous two years. The business recently reopened under different owners and a new name: Avenue One, Bar and Grill.

The proposed rules would require nightspots to apply for a nightlife license, operate within their occupancy limits, control the noise level and clean up the area surrounding the club. Nightspots also would have to return calls from neighbors within 24 hours.

The city could reject a nightspot's license application if its owner, partner or manager had been involved with a business that was a public nuisance or which had a license that had been revoked within the past year.

A seven-member board appointed by the mayor would oversee the new ordinance and report on its effectiveness. Three members would represent nightspots.

The proposal drew mixed reactions.

"I'm all for regulating this stuff, but I don't think the mayor understands what he's doing on this whole thing," said Dave Lyon, owner of Twist, a Belltown nightclub. "They can pretty much put anybody out of business."

Vafa Ghazi, of the Fremont Neighborhood Council, said the proposal was a good first step. "The important thing is that it's enforced," he said.

City Councilman Nick Licata, whose public-safety committee will review the proposed rules, questioned how many businesses could ultimately be required to apply for a nightlife license.

"Basically we have a handful of problem institutions that we're dealing with," Licata said. "So why are we using a shotgun where we should be using a fly swatter?"

Licata said he doesn't expect the council to take up the matter until early next year.

Nickels said he wants to create a partnership with club owners, but he maintains they do have some responsibility if they chronically attract trouble-makers.

And such nuisances change the way people perceive the safety and livability of their neighborhood, he said.

"We're going from a big small town to a big city," Nickels said. "Finding a way for that friction to be mediated is part of the evolution of our city."

Nickels' proposal would eliminate the need for new businesses to negotiate individual agreements with neighbors.

So-called "good neighbor agreements" can be idiosyncratic and put businesses at a disadvantage. Twist, for example, got its liquor license only after agreeing to some 20 restrictions imposed by the Pomeroy Homeowners Association.

Because of that agreement, Twist couldn't open a sidewalk cafe last summer and lost thousands of dollars in revenue to restaurants across the street, Lyon said.

The good-neighbor agreements would be replaced by the nightlife ordinance.

Sanjay Bhatt: 206-464-3103 or sbhatt@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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