Downtown Gilbert

Gilbert is currently looking at adding an arts, culture, and entertainment district to the Downtown Heritage district. It’s a change in designation that would allow businesses to serve alcohol closer to schools and churches.

The Gilbert Redevelopment Commission on Wednesday decided to recommend that the Town Council designate an arts, culture and entertainment district in the downtown Heritage District.

The designation of the new district would not affect zoning in the town, but would instead lift the ban on certain types of liquor establishments operating within 300 feet of schools and churches. The council is scheduled to hear the recommendation on Sept. 5.

Under the current rule, the town council must automatically deny any requests for liquor licenses from any bar, microbrewery, wine bar or liquor store, within 300 feet of a school or church said Mike Milillo, Gilbert zoning administrator. Restaurants, hotels and motels are exempt.

However, if the council formally designates the proposed area as an arts, culture and entertainment district -- which it is permitted to do under state law – then businesses seeking certain types of liquor licenses in the area will be considered on a case by case basis.

Although the commission decided in support of the new district, Commissioner Thomas McNally expressed reservations about the fact that Gilbert Public Schools has not formally supported the proposal. McNally is also worried about the impact to churches.

“I did some research online on this topic in other communities and found objections from pastors,” McNally said. He added, “No matter what happens here ... I’m a little concerned that there’s going to be negative feedback.”

Commissioner Mary Ellen Fresquez expressed support for the district, but cautioned that it must be an area that offers robust arts and cultural options, along with entertainment.

“Our community is very open and excited to ensure that it’s more than just liquor licenses,” Fresquez said.

Chairman Marc Barlow said that the commission should be concerned about ensuring that the proposed district does not disrupt neighbors living in the area.

None of the commissioners expressed a fear about safety during the meeting, however Gilbert Public Schools has previously requested a 500 foot boundary for all liquor licenses, instead of the standard 300 foot boundary.

Gilbert Police Chief Tim Dorn did not attend the meeting, but in a statement Wednesday said that the police department does not expect the proposed arts, culture and entertainment district to cause a significant impact on police services.

“We work with establishments that serve alcohol to educate them on over serving, DUI and other alcohol-related offenses,” the statement said.

Heather Lucas, 26, of Gilbert, who attended the Gilbert Redevelopment Commission meeting, said that she didn’t know much about the proposed district, but that she now feels it is a good idea.

“Anything that’s going to bring more businesses and draw people downtown, I think it’s a good idea,” Lucas said.

The proposed district would occupy about half of the downtown Heritage District area and would run from Juniper Avenue in the north down to just south of Elliot Road and stretch through one quarter of a mile on either side of Gilbert Road.

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