P&Z and bar talk: a bad mix

The Skagway Borough Assembly needs to act swiftly in throwing out the Feb. 15 ruling of the Planning & Zoning Commission regarding the conditional use permit requirement for moving The Wood bar into the Corner Café restaurant space.

Regardless of how one feels about the duplicate liquor license being requested for the bar, there is sufficient evidence that the P&Z process was flawed.

An appeal has been filed, and by law it must be heard and dealt with, but, really, it should not even be necessary for the assembly to hear an appeal in this case. There are sufficient grounds for not upholding the P&Z action:

1) Even though it has been in code since 1990, the provision that requires a conditional use for a bar in the business general zone has never been followed until now. Nearly every license holder in town is probably in violation. This long-ignored provision should be repealed.

2) The issue before P&Z was supposed to have been about a permitted use of a building, but it was impossible to separate the duplicate liquor license issue, which falls under the purview of the borough assembly in reviewing license requests before the state ABC board. Many of those who testified, as well as commission members, were guilty of straddling the issue, through no fault of their own. And that’s another reason why a conditional use permit requirement for a bar should be scuttled. The assembly is the local governing body that reviews liquor license requests, and this issue should remain solely in the assembly’s court.

3) A member of the commission, Mike Healy, is a competing bar owner who tried to recuse himself and was denied by chair Matt Deach. The chair relied on a memo from Mayor Tom Cochran that explained how the borough attorney interprets state statutes regarding conflict of interest, saying as long as there is no direct financial benefit and the conflict is stated, then the member may participate. By Healy’s own admission, approval of the permit would have affected the value of his liquor license. That is an admission of direct financial benefit from a potential vote. Even if he had voted for the permit, it would have been wrong. He should have stepped away from the table.

So, where to go from here? Swift action on the appeal will be a start, then move all the bar talk back where it belongs, before the assembly. – WJB