Sometimes, a community’s growing pains fall into the category of “good problems to have.” It doesn’t fit in Allentown, at least not in regard to the explosive growth of bars.
Residents of one of Buffalo’s most charming neighborhoods are sensibly concerned about the number of bars that are springing up. That might not be unusual in any circumstances, but given that the predictable bar scene raucousness has now tilted into homicide, the issues take on urgency. City leaders need to treat the concerns of residents and business owners with deadly seriousness.
Just the normal rowdiness comes with cost. First Presbyterian Church on Symphony Circle has spent more than $3,000 on private security since mid-August, for example. Interim Pastor Elena Delgado said she would arrive on Sunday mornings to find broken beer and liquor bottles, cans of beer and even used hypodermic needles.
That’s bad enough, but homicide dramatically raises the stakes. Saleem Merukeb was shot to death Nov. 3 after an altercation that mushroomed into a street fight. Jeremy Wright is charged with firing the gun. He is being held without bail.
Members of the community helped police identify the accused killer. Now, they want City Hall to help fix the larger issue by working to decrease the number of bars in the area. It’s a good suggestion. No one wants to hurt the city’s growth, but it’s important to manage it, especially when growth produces a demonstrable and dangerous impact on public safety.
Their idea is not to allow any new bars and, in fact, to decrease their numbers by prohibiting replacements when existing ones close. Whether that is the best approach needs to be evaluated, but the amount of alcohol flowing through the district is clearly at the center of the problem.
This is no small matter. Even without the shooting earlier this month, undisciplined behavior carries a price, as the congregation at First Presbyterian Church understands too well. It could be worse. What if someone is accidentally jabbed by a discarded needle? What do rising noise levels and congestion do to property values? What effect to they have on other types of neighborhood development?
Those questions arise even before the latest one: Should the city wait for another homicide to occur before taking steps to rein in an environment showing signs of spinning out of control?
No one is talking about closing well-run bars that are already open. But it wouldn’t be a bad idea for city officials to review with their owners the rules under which they are expected to operate. It would also be worth increasing police presence as a deterrent for those patrons to whom the rules don’t matter.
Most who visit the district are simply looking to have a fun night out, we presume. The city has no interest in discouraging that impulse. But there will always be some looking for trouble, and, even for those who are not, alcohol is known to impair judgment. The risks of undesirable behavior and violence can only rise with the number of people consuming alcohol late into the night.
Allentown residents have an idea for facing that troublesome fact. The city needs to respond promptly, either agreeing to their proposal or offering its own thoughts on dealing with an increasingly unstable situation.