Committee redefines ‘abandonment’ in ordinance

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – Changing a few words made all the difference Thursday for the Ad-hoc Liquor License Ordinance Study Committee.

By substituting “failure to operate” for “abandonment,” the committee cleared a hurdle they had struggled with in the revocation and suspension of licenses section of the city ordinance.

The change began with changing the title of the section in question from “Abandonment of Premises” to “Non-operation of Premises.”

The concern of several committee members, raised several times during their deliberations, was that the section mandated vacation of a tavern license if the business is not open for whatever reason for more than six months.

“When I bought my building, the liquor license was included and I know for a fact that the building was not used for five years,” before she bought it, committee member Carole O’Malley said of her downtown restaurant/tavern, De O’Malley’s.

While the section in question allows the City Council the power to extend a license for a so-called abandoned premise if it sees fit, several on the committee felt the reasons for possibly extending a license needed to be more defined in the ordinance.

“We’re looking at several things in that paragraph and to me, it’s confusing,” committee member Sue Kaiser confessed. “To me, abandonment is one thing and not doing business is another.”

City Clerk/Treasurer Patty Huberty pointed out that, unlike other sections of the city’s liquor license ordinance, that section is not based on or an adoption of applicable state law.

“There is no definition of abandonment (of premises) in the state statutes,” Huberty allowed. “Is it really abandonment if you are remodeling or actually trying to sell a business?”

The section applies to class B retail liquor licenses, which are limited in number by state law.

“You want to make sure the council has some flexibility to hold that license in case somebody wants to go back in,” to a building that has not been operated for more than six months, City Administrator Brian Yerges added.

He noted that if a license were withdrawn automatically if a premise is abandoned under the ordinance and the license is reissued elsewhere, the city might not have an available license for someone who might later buy the so-called abandoned premise to operate with a tavern license.

Such a building might require extensive remodeling to be converted to a different use if the license is no longer available. The cost of such remodeling could well be prohibitive, Yerges predicted, and the city would be left with a vacant building.

“I think at the end of the day, it’s still going to be a judgement call of the City Council,” Yerges said of the determination of licenses for non-operational premises.

Beyond changing the title of the ordinance section, the committee agreed to change several instances where it addressed “abandonment” of premises to “failure to operate” premises.

They agreed that the new wording allowed enough flexibility for the council to address each individual situation that might arise as it comes up.

They felt that was preferable to trying to define all possible situations within the code and then having an unforeseen situation arise that might not have been addressed.

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