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County Legislature to consider resolution on changing bar closing time

It appears that lawmakers in Erie County finally are ready to give the issue of earlier bar closings the time of day.

Legislator Ted Morton, R-Cheektowaga, has submitted a resolution to the County Legislature, asking the State Liquor Authority to change the closing time of bars in the county from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m.

“We are the only upstate county left at four o’clock, so we hope it goes through smoothly,” Morton said at a Wednesday morning news conference in Buffalo’s Chippewa District.

Earlier this week, Legislator Thomas A. Loughran, D-Amherst, filed a resolution to hold a public hearing on the issue.

Those two actions this week add up to more than what’s happened during the past 12 years, when the issue has been discussed twice without action being taken.

Morton was joined Wednesday by fellow Republicans Guy Marlett, the current deputy town supervisor in Amherst, who is trying to unseat Loughran in November’s election, and County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs, who has been championing the change for a couple of months.

“Quite honestly, I didn’t have feelings either way,” Morton said.

“It’s not something that my constituents thought of.”

But since Jacobs brought the issue to his attention in August, Morton said he has talked to residents, and bar and restaurant owners in his district, which includes eastern Cheektowaga and Depew.

He said he found “overwhelming support in my community, my district.”

Jacobs characterized Morton’s resolution as “a huge step in the right direction.”

The county clerk maintains that an earlier closing time would reduce drunken driving fatalities, among other things. Last month, he partially funded a poll, conducted by Barry Zeplowitz and Associates, that found an overwhelming majority of county residents favor closing bars and restaurants before 4 a.m.

“Beyond drinking and driving ... this is a quality-of-life issue for those living in proximity to late-night establishments,” Jacobs said Wednesday.

The Allentown Association is in favor of changing the closing time, he said. “We’ve also garnered a significant amount of support from bar and restaurant owners.”

One of those supporters is Jay Manno, who owns Soho Burger Bar at Chippewa and Franklin streets, where Wednesday’s news conference was held on the sidewalk.

But Manno gave the impression that, as far as he’s concerned, Morton’s proposed 2 a.m. closing isn’t set in stone.

“I think we’re probably more in the investigative stages still at this point,” Manno said. Changing the closing time from 4 a.m. to 3 a.m., which is when bars close on weekends in neighboring Niagara County, might make more sense, he added.

“I don’t think there’s a down side to this,” Manno said. “We’re just trying to be good neighbors with the rest of the residents down here.”

Veteran restaurateur/developer Mark Croce isn’t happy with the proposed 2 a.m. closing time or with local government’s involvement. He said he is willing to compromise to close at 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, but will organize opposition if 2 a.m. becomes the mandate.

“There’s a lot of unintended consequences,” Croce predicted, including the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino, which operates under a different set of rules, drawing away money that would otherwise be spent at downtown bars.

Morton said that if his resolution is adopted by the County Legislature, it would go to the State Liquor Authority for further research and action. The SLA could call a public hearing, Morton said.

When members of the media asked why a hearing couldn’t be held before the legislature votes on the resolution, Morton said that could be done.