Will Chavey, Contributing Writer
After a flurry of debate in early January, the Irving City Council voted Thursday, Jan. 10, not to allow bars to open near the University of Dallas campus.
Since 1981, Irving legislation has not allowed any institution to generate more than 40 percent of its income from alcohol, effectively preventing any bars from opening. In 2008, Irving allowed retailers, as well as restaurants, to sell alcohol but still kept the city’s ban on hard alcohol.
That was all set to change on Jan. 10, with mixed reactions from many on staff at UD. The proposed legislation would allow institutions that earn up to 70 percent of their profits from alcohol sales – which would include some types of bars – to operate along Texas State Highway 183, in Las Colinas Urban Center and by the old Texas Stadium. Given UD’s proximity to some of those areas, it seemed probable that this would affect UD. Associate Vice President for Administration Patrick Daly seemed unsure.
“[UD has] already put deed restrictions on the land that prohibit sexually oriented businesses and other undesirable uses of the land,” Daly said. In effect, because UD owns so much land around the campus, these restrictions would make any Irving laws a non-issue in the immediate neighborhood.
Still, many people expressed concern about the surrounding community. Daly, again, wanted to frame the issue before debating its merits.
“What I’ve heard from someone in the Irving Chamber … is that a true bar, in which it sells nothing but [alcoholic beverages] … needs to have about 90 percent of sales to come from alcoholic beverages,” Daly said.
But many on the UD faculty still believed the switch would make an impression. Dr. Debra Romanick Baldwin is among those who worry about the impact of tearing down the walls between UD and the outer community.
“My immediate concern for UD students is drunk drivers,” Baldwin said. “I’m very confident that [UD students] are responsible. I’m not so confident of the other patrons of a proliferation of bars near UD.”
Dr. Bill Doyle from the economics department offered a very guarded acceptance of bars close to UD, but also addressed the impact of sexually oriented businesses sprouting in the Irving community.
“I think a lot of the people who were opposed to the measure were worried about the Bachman Lake phenomenon, where about five large strip clubs virtually destroyed an otherwise very nice neighborhood during the ‘90s,” Doyle said.
Doyle went on to discuss the economic merit of the legislation, but ultimately indicated that, at least in a vacuum, “[Bars are] an integral part of living in a college town. The great American institution of ‘The College Bar,’’’ he argued, can play an enormous part in the collegiate experience, “at least as long as you don’t go to Baylor!”
Many other professors declined to give a statement. Every student approached for the article – some speaking on the condition of anonymity – acknowledged some risks, but ultimately supported or remained neutral toward seeing more bars around UD’s campus.
Resident Assistant Cierra Houchins, a junior, said that “ bars are a great way for the ‘over-21’ crowd to get together and enjoy each other’s company in a fun environment.” Perhaps more importantly, however, she also noted: “UD constantly worries about underage drinking, so this would be great … because at the very least, if you are under 21, you can’t go to the bars.”
Junior Alex Macdonald agreed, arguing that more bars in the area around UD would possibly reduce drinking overall, as well as produce a safer environment. “[It] would greatly reduce risks from drunk driving [since students would not be driving as far] … [and] it would not increase drinking among ‘over-21s,’ maybe reducing it for financial reasons and certainly keeping it in a regulated area.”
On the other hand, some students observed a benefit typically seen only in Rome. Sophomore Joseph Dodd, recently returned from the Rome semester, said that, although the move would carry some risk, expanding the presence of convenient bars “would also give ample opportunity for students of age and professors to form more casual and helpful relationships.” Many students noticed a similar phenomenon during class trips in Rome.
However, at this point, the debate is all for naught. Two weeks after the original proposal, the city voted to switch the rule to “50-50” (a 50 percent alcohol sales maximum), and to allow institutions with 70 percent of sales coming from alcohol in Las Colinas Urban Center only.
“I’m very heartened by the move,” Baldwin said. “I do not think that bars should be allowed on 183.” She cited issues with Irving’s demographics in particular.
Irving Development Manager Steve Reed did offer at least one way in which the new measure can benefit UD. Currently, city law dictates that all institutions serving alcohol must keep a minimum distance from schools and churches.
During the cafeteria renovations, UD needed to expand the areas on campus in which it could serve or store alcohol, including to areas that conflicted with Irving’s alcohol zoning policies. UD applied for an exception, but the council did not have the authority to grant it under the then-current law. The new ordinance, in addition to changing the sales percentage restrictions citywide, will allow the city more flexibility to accommodate requests like UD’s.
“Ironically, the University of Dallas will probably be the first beneficiary of [the council’s expanded power],” Reed said. According to Vice President Daly, the university’s request for an exception will likely be granted shortly.
The debate circling around the issue will certainly continue well into the future, although both Baldwin and Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne expressed the need to strip these restrictions cautiously. As the mayor said during a city council meeting, “Once you loosen [the restrictions], you don’t go back.”
But more changes could be in the works. Although the issue is at rest for now, the city received 582 emails requesting a change before the recent vote, while only 165 had asked for the status quo. Although the adjustments will satisfy some residents, such a wide disparity suggests further debate on the issue in the future.
Reed said any moves would be made with the caution that the mayor advised.
“The council asked [one] committee to meet over the next 60-90 days and look at each of the other possible areas [to serve alcohol], and make a recommendation back to the council over whether to include those areas.”