Booze revamp would let cops shut down bars on the spot

by Walter Pierce

Intro ordinance gives Lafayette police — and sheriff’s deputies in unincorporated Lafayette Parish — the authority to immediately shutter a bar if it presents “an immediate danger to the health, safety and welfare of the public.”

Lafayette Consolidated Government’s revamp of the alcohol code — the body of ordinances that govern bars and liquor sales in the city of Lafayette and unincorporated parish — includes a new provision that would grant police officers or sheriff’s deputies in the unincorporated part of the parish the authority to order the immediate closure of a bar if it’s deemed “an immediate danger to the health, safety and welfare of the public.”

The ordinance also makes LCG’s chief administrative officer — currently Lowell Duhon — in charge of hearing appeals of closures. Those appeals, if denied by Duhon, can ultimately be brought before the City-Parish Council and district court. Currently the Lafayette Parish sheriff has authority over hearing appeals from establishments within unincorporated Lafayette Parish.

The ordinance is part of a reset of ordinances governing alcohol sales within LCG’s jurisdiction that began more than a year ago and included a series of public meetings to which bar owners were invited. Although LCG has not lifted the so-called moratorium on new bars in Downtown Lafayette, consolidated government is headed toward a conditional permitting system within the district that some fear could lead to a proliferation of bars Downtown — an eventuality Councilman Bruce Conque says is highly unlikely because the application process for applying for liquor licenses to operate as a bar will be lengthy and expensive, the conditions strict, and local government’s ability to shutter non-complying establishments robust.

“I’m comfortable [with the revamp] because it came out of a very transparent process that allowed everyone to have input,” Conque tells The Independent.

The new police power to shutter bars seen as a threat to public safety is widely regarded as an effort to clamp down on high-capacity bars, especially Downtown, that in the past have posed issues for police — Exhibit A: the former Karma on Jefferson Street, now operating as Delta Grand II.

In addition to giving law enforcement the authority to order immediate closures of bars, Ordinance 090 also establishes provisions for allowing bars to reopen after they’ve addressed officials’ concerns as well as penalties for bar owners who defy closure orders.

The ordinance will be introduced at Tuesday’s council meeting and, if approved, would be up for final adoption on May 16. To read the ordinance, click here.