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Zhateau Zorbaz succesfully weathered bridge construction during the summer of 2009, but owner Rob Swanson said amending the county closing time could have a "traumatic affect" on his business. The establishment is the only one in the county with a 2 a.m. closing time. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Commissioner questions 2 a.m. closing time for bars

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As a rural pizzeria renewed its 2 a.m. closing license, Hubbard County commissioners discussed whether the board should review the county's closing time for establishments that sell alcohol.

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But that state law only pertains locally to Zhateau Zorbaz in Dorset. The Whitetail Tavern, which also had a 2 a.m. closing time, burned in December.

"I don't remember when we OK'd it but I don't think it's a very good idea," said commissioner Dick Devine, a retired highway trooper. "It keeps the people who may be intoxicated out later."

"We have a town where you can't buy a meal after 9:30 but bars are open until 2," noted commissioner Lyle Robinson.

Commissioners discussed neighboring Beltrami County, which just passed a 1 a.m. closing time in the rural areas while Bemidji establishments can stay open until 2 a.m.

Robinson said it actually makes sense from a law enforcement perspective because deputies would be burdened if all the bars emptied at the same time.

Devine argued that all the campaigns to reduce drunken drivers on the roads "are counterproductive" with the state's extended bar closing times.

The board took no action, but said it would discuss the matter with Sheriff Cory Aukes, who was out of town Wednesday.

But just the suggestion struck a sour note with Zorbaz owner Rob Swanson, who said that's the opposite thing the board should consider in tough economic times.

And he had a hard time not taking the issue personally.

"It's a huge part of our business," he said. "With the unemployment rate in Park Rapids... It really speaks to the politicians. If we had to cut a couple of full-time positions for that..."

And Swanson pointed out many city establishments have a disproportionately higher number of police calls than his family pizzeria.

Open seven years, he said residents have grown accustomed to the 2 a.m. closing.

And the staff is aggressive about calling for help rather than dealing with a customer who should be sent home, Swanson said.

"We don't really have a lot of sheriff's calls and we've got a really good working relationship with the department," Swanson said.

"When we need them they're here but compared to other establishments in the Park Rapids area we're in the lower level (for calls.)"

And Swanson said by state law, no establishment can legally sell alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person and he feels his staff has been responsible in complying with the law.

When restaurants in the area keep closing, he said the board should not even consider business-adverse concepts such as changing the county's closing ordinance.

In other business, the board:

n Pressed auditor Pam Heeren about how the county can once again issue passports.

Late last year federal regulations went into effect preventing the auditor's office from issuing passports because it also issues driver's licenses. The rationale is that the potential for identity theft is too great if one office issues more than one form of identification.

County officials tried to have the service moved to the recorder's office, but that plan didn't mesh with the federal law because the office also issues birth and death certificates.

Heeren said the county is up against the wall with the way the federal law is written. And whether the License Bureau would be interested in issuing passports would be up to that business, Heeren said, and not a county matter.

New commissioner Kathy Grell expressed some concern that residents can no longer get a passport in Hubbard County.

n Granted a conditional use permit for a development on lakes Hattie and Beauty in northwest Hubbard County that is a 24-cabin planned unit development. Each cabin would be around 1,200 square feet.

The proposal went before the Hubbard County Planning Commission last week, which had recommended six dock slips on two docks for the cabins that will be on Beauty Lake and two slips for the Lake Hattie rental units.

Developer James Schwartzbauer had voluntarily restricted the number of docks to preserve the pristine feel of the area, maintaining he was catering to canoeists and small fishing boats, "a quiet family retreat."

Beauty Lake is classified as a natural environment lake.

At the Planning Commission meeting, DNR Fisheries Supervisor Doug Kingsley and COLA members had questioned the need for the two Beauty Lake docks, as potentially disturbing aquatic life on the small, shallow lake.

But board member Lyle Robinson stepped in, noting the PUD could have one dock slip per cabin in the first tier of development, and suggested the board follow the ordinance. That would allow 22 slips on Beauty Lake.

And Robinson said the board should not impose time restrictions on the project as the Environmental Services Office had suggested as a "housekeeping matter."

Environmental Services Officer Eric Buitenwerf suggested "use must commence within two years of the permit's approval" and that "if use is discontinued for a time period of two years or more, it is void."

Buitenwerf said his reasoning is that an open-ended development agreement ran the risk of land use compatibility issues down the road if ordinances should change.

Schwartzbauer said he would build the cabins one at a time.

Robinson urged the board to adopt the plan with the 22 slips and no time restrictions, which it ultimately did.

He said while Schwartzbauer might want to limit boats on the lake, any subsequent owner might want the slips for guests.

Because conditional use permits run with the land, Robinson said he worried the six slips on Beauty Lake might discourage sale of the PUD if and when Schwartzbauer is ready to sell.

n Approved the Sheriff's Department application for a grant to purchase ARMER radio equipment that would entail the county putting up 20 percent matching funds.

The county would receive $66,765 in federal funds while committing to a $16,691 local share.

The conversion to narrowband radio by 2013 has been a headache for the new administration as sheriff's department personnel try to track what happened with 2010 grants.

Chief deputy Scott Parks referenced board action in August 2010 that authorized the department to apply for one grant, but could find no record the department had followed through on it.

He suggested referencing all board action with grant identification numbers to keep the process straightened out.

The department was also allowed to purchase seven tactical vests for Emergency Response Unit team members that have a higher ballistic rating than the bulletproof vests worn by deputies daily.

And the department will purchase a "throw phone" for the SWAT team.

In some hostage situations, if a cell phone or coverage is not available, a "throw phone" is lobbed to the hostage taker so team members can maintain communications throughout negotiations.

Grant funds of $11,299 will be accessed to pay the cost of the vests and phone, Parks told the board.

n Approved a conditional use permit for the Highway Department to acquire right-of-way land for realignment of County 37. The road that runs along the south shore of Kabekona Lake will undergo a gradual transformation and eventual paving.

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