Liquor license ordinance study committee dives into its work

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The Ad Hoc Liquor License Committee will have a lot of homework to do in its study of the city’s liquor licensing ordinance.

The study committee, appointed by Mayor Donald Pohlman, held its second meeting Thursday and set to work developing what information it wants for its work.

The committee grew out of the controversy over a retail class B liquor license application earlier this year by the Plymouth Intergenerational Coalition for the Generations center building.

That license was first denied by the council last April, then granted after reconsideration in July.

Pohlman vetoed that license a few days later and had his veto upheld by the council in August.

Several issues were raised during debate on those occasions and the study committee was created at the request of Council President Charles Hansen to consider those and other issues.

City Administrator Brian Yerges sought input from committee as to what kind of information they would like city staff to obtain to aid their efforts.

He noted that members had already been given copies of the current ordinances, state law governing local liquor licenses, and ordinances from other communities similar in size to Plymouth.

Committee member Carole O’Malley requested copies of liquor ordinances from other municipalities in the county. She explained that she was interested in seeing if there were differences that might make another municipality more appealing for a new business seeking a liquor license than Plymouth.

Yerges, Pohlman and City Clerk/Treasurer Patty Huberty all told committee members that state law sets rules governing issuing liquor licenses and the city can only adopt further rules if they go beyond the limits set by the state.

One of those limits is one class B retail liquor license – commonly a tavern, bar or restaurant license – per 500 population in the city.

That restriction was enacted by the state in 1997, according to Yerges, and any additional licenses thus authorized beyond any a municipality had already issued were deemed reserve licenses – with no further restrictions on who they could be issued to, but an initial fee of $10,000.

Different municipalities treat that higher fee differently, the city officials told the committee, with some returning some or all of it to the applicant. Plymouth currently gives that fee amount to the Redevelopment Authority, which then determines if to rebate the fee to an applicant and how much to rebate.

The city currently has just one liquor license available, the one PIC tried unsuccessfully to obtain.

Yerges told the committee city officials are hoping the committee’s work will lead to a set city policy and end what he characterized as periodic debates over issuing licenses.

He noted that some of that debate was the result of the council’s decision several years ago to allow non-profit groups, such as the Eagles Club and the Plymouth Arts Center, to obtain a license.

Yerges pointed out that state law does allow for issuing licenses to certain qualified clubs and lodges and that the committee should be aware of the difference between those and other non-profit groups.

In addition to the retail liquor license rules, the committee will also look at licensing for retail liquor package stores.

The city currently limits such licenses to four, Yerges said, but the state law sets no limits on how many of those licenses a municipality may issue.

The committee set Dec. 18 for their next meeting to continue their work.

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