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Tarentum lifts ban on sale of booze at Gatto Cycle Shop party

In a move that Council President Tim Rapp said could be "political suicide," council decided Monday to break with a nearly three-year ban and allow the public sale of alcohol for a June block party planned by Gatto Cycle Shop.

The approval came over the impassioned objections of Mayor Carl Magnetta, who called it "ridiculous." The mayor said residents "don't want alcohol and booze on the streets."

Council decided unanimously in June 2008 to ban selling or serving alcohol on public property.

The decision came in the aftermath of problems with the Tarentum Festival, the major fundraising event for Highland Hose.

Residents along First Avenue, across from Riverview Memorial Park where the festival was held, complained about drunk festival-goers behaving badly, damaging property and urinating in public.

Council kept the ban in place despite pleas from firefighters, who said it hurt their fundraising efforts.

But Mark Gatto said an "ugly past" should not be held against his event, attendance at which he said has suffered for want of beer.

A majority of council agreed, and voted 4-1 in favor of Gatto's proposal. Hugh Fox voted no; members Tim Firko and Pete Varos were absent.

Fox said his vote was in keeping with what residents have asked of him.

To the Gattos, he said, "Gentlemen, prove me wrong."

The block party, scheduled for June 11-12, will be held along with "The Ride for Homeless Vets."

According to a letter from Gatto to council, all money collected outside will benefit the charity. The money the charity collects goes to the care of homeless veterans in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Councilman Tom Grates is the president of the veterans benefit. Grates said the motorcycle riders are responsible and don't drive drunk.

But he said trying to stage the event without alcohol is "impossible."

Without beer, Gatto said, he wasn't drawing enough people to make the block party worth having. Food vendors couldn't make enough money and left early.

"It's a shame that beer draws people," Grates said.

In his proposal, Gatto outlined several things he will do, including paying for as many police officers as the police chief feels are needed, and renting enough portable bathrooms to serve the crowd.

Volunteers and barriers will ensure the serving area remains contained. No beer will be served to anyone that is visibly intoxicated.

A "walking poker run" is being planned that would see participants visit local businesses. Local nonprofits will be able to set up booths free of charge.

"We feel that our event brings many people to the town of Tarentum that may not otherwise enter." Gatto said in his letter to council. "We feel our town has much to offer and feel that people will see this as they take a walk around our area."

Rapp said the decision could be "political suicide," and that every council member who voted in favor could lose their seat if the event goes badly.

But he noted that the Gatto event is not in a residential area and can be contained.

Magnetta warned that the decision would open the entire borough to alcohol sales from every organization out there.

"How can you tell one group, 'No, you can't do it,' and another, 'You can do it?'" Magnetta said.

Before the vote, Magnetta warned that he could overfill council's chambers with opposed residents.

"It's not hard feelings," the mayor said. "The people and citizens of this town do not want this open drinking on the streets because of what happens," he said.

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