Bar, church can coexist

Zoning laws exist to prevent conflicts by grouping together similar property uses and keeping out those that don't belong. That's why you won't find a gravel pit the middle of a residential neighborhood.

Conflicts inevitably arise, however, when one occupant of a zone decides that a nearby use that is permitted under the law shouldn't be.

That's the situation on West Eighth Street in downtown Medford, where the Gypsy Blues Bar is preparing to open in a new location that happens to be across the street from the rear of First Presbyterian Church, where the church-operated day-care center has an outdoor playground. The location is part of the city's business district, home to any number of commercial operations.

Church leaders are objecting to the bar's presence, arguing it is not compatible with church functions, especially the day-care center. They have sent letters to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission asking the OLCC to deny the bar's application for a liquor license. We think the church's concerns are overblown, and see no reason why a responsibly operated bar should not be allowed in an urban setting that already is home to another watering hole less than a block in the other direction.

Contrary to some of the responses to this situation in the Mail Tribune's online forum, this isn't about religious objections to the consumption of alcohol. The Presbyterian Church is a mainline denomination hardly known for denouncing Demon Rum. And the church's pastor says she does not object to alcohol consumption on moral grounds.

This is about a church situated in an urban setting that wants to protect its members and clients from some perceived danger posed by a legally operated commercial business.

The church's administrator, saying "alcohol and children do not mix," adds that "We have to maintain zero tolerance."

As well they should, on church property. But that doesn't mean the church should be able to impose "zero tolerance" on a legal, strictly regulated business.

The child-care center operates during business hours, not at night, when bars see the bulk of their business. If children attend evening events at the church, they do so in the company of adults.

Church leaders also express concern about groups of people recovering from substance abuse problems who meet at the church. But OnTrack Inc. serves substance abuse clients around the corner from the church, a block from the new 4 Daughters Irish Pub, which has been operating for months with no apparent problems.

If the Gypsy Blues Bar had a history of over-serving patrons or generating excessive complaints to police in its former location on Riverside Avenue, that would be grounds for objecting to a license for the new location. But that's not the case.

OLCC officials say those objecting to a liquor license application must make their case based on actual adverse impacts or zoning rules. It's hard to imagine the church will be able to meet that standard.

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