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Alcohol may be sold in theaters

The City Planning Commission said the owners of a downtown movie theater have the right to sell beer and other alcoholic beverages to patrons, as long as they comply with state law.

Commissioners tackled the question Thursday on behalf of city planners who said the owners from New Vision Theatres in Central Mall have applied for a permit to sell low-point beer. Community Services Director Richard Rogalski said the issue was brought to the planning commission because Central Mall and the businesses within it are located in the Commercial Central District of the Downtown Urban Renewal Plan, a specific zoning designation in downtown Lawton.

That zoning sets permitted uses within the district, to include theaters and movies; private clubs and entertainment when the serving of alcoholic beverages is auxiliary to a restaurant use; and "any other use which is similar in character to those enumerated above, as determined by the Planning Commission, provided these uses are not more obnoxious or detrimental to the area in which it is located by reason of noise, offensive odor, smoke, dust, vibration, traffic congestion or danger to life and property...."

The point of Thursday's discussion was to determine whether serving alcohol at a movie theater is similar in character to serving alcohol at a restaurant. Commissioners conceded it is and, because state law allows the practice, effective Oct. 1, they agreed the use is permitted in downtown movie theaters.

Because the CPC was being asked to clarify existing zoning code rather than change it, its decision settles the matter, meaning it will not go to the City Council for approval.

The ability to drink alcoholic beverages while watching a movie comes courtesy of House Bill 2186, signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin this past summer. The law allows movie theaters to sell beer and mixed drinks to patrons without segregation, meaning consumers do not have to be separated into special areas. The law went into effect for low-point beer in October, but officials say it will apply to all beer and mixed drinks in 2018, when state law is further amended.

Rogalski said the state law is specific in its provisions, noting several times the consumption of alcohol is restricted to a movie theater's premises. That means people of legal age can buy their beverages and drink them in the movie theater, but not outside the theater.

That distinction is important for the New Vision Theatres because of its layout. The theater is located just inside Central Mall's north entrance and has theaters on both sides of the mall hallway. While New Vision Theatres controls theaters on the east and west side of the mall hallway and a kiosk in the middle of the hallway, it does not control the hallway itself. Rogalski said the permit application is for on-premise consumption and "premises" means only the portion of Central Mall under lease to New Visions Theatres.

"It has to remain on premises," he said, explaining it would be illegal for theater patrons to buy a drink and carry it into the mall.

Commissioners conceded state law allows movie theaters to serve alcohol, as long as owners hold the proper state license. But several are uncomfortable with the idea.

Commissioner Dave Davison said he would have to recommend the CPC grant the privilege to the movie theater, based on a reading of state law. Davison also said it wasn't up to the planning commission to control how the theaters regulate the practice.

The Lawton Constitution

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