Ordinance should not unduly restrict council

IT TOOK ONLY A little less time than the gestation period for a baby elephant, but the Ad-hoc Liquor License Ordinance Study Committee finally delivered their product to the Plymouth City Council last week.

The 28-page document, which the council is expected to act on at their next meeting Feb. 23, is the product of careful deliberation and long discussion by the seven-member committee with plenty of support from city officials and staff.

They are to be highly commended for devoting so much of their time and effort to serving and for their dedication to an at times unenviable task.

As City Attorney Crystal Fieber pointed out in her review of the proposal for the council last week, much of what changes in the new ordinance is simply catching up with changes in state law governing liquor licenses.

But there are areas where local municipalities can set their own rules and some of those proved to be as contentious with the council as they were in the committee.

Chief among those is a restriction on tavern licenses being issued to any premise within 300 feet of a school or church.

In particular, the issue was the provision in state law – which is where that stricture comes from – that allows councils or boards to waive that restriction if it deems it allowable.

The committee – by the margin of one vote – recommended that such discretion not be granted to the council in Plymouth.

The committee’s final product still leaves the council a great deal of leeway allowed under state law in a number of different areas regarding liquor licenses, but imposes this one particular limitation on the council’s powers.

Of course, the elephant in the room for much of the committee’s nearly 18-month long deliberations was the issue that led to the committee’s creation in the first place – the controversial application from Generations, the inter-generational center, for a class B retail liquor license.

That request was denied, then granted, then taken away by mayoral veto in 2014. One of the chief concerns of those opposed to the Generations license was the presence of child care and day care entities within the center itself, which was viewed as a violation of the 300-foot proximity restriction.

Proponents of limiting the council’s authority to waive the restriction gave no other reason than that the state law should be strictly enforced – even while they were leaving the council the ability to waive requirements in the state law in other areas in the ordinance.

This despite the fact that the city already has two other class B license holders located within 300 feet of a church or school – ReBar (the former Turner Hall) and the Plymouth Flames at Carl Loebe Field – both of which are grandfathered because they were originally issued before the restriction was adopted.

As Alderman Jim Faller noted in the discussion last week, the proposed ordinance would not allow the city to even consider a license applicant for a location that is even an inch less than 300 feet from a school or church. That kind of inflexibility could prove to do more harm than good.

Elected officials are entrusted with great power and authority in many areas, not just granting liquor licenses. We elect people that we trust to wield that power and authority wisely and responsibility and we have the ultimate power and authority to replace those that do not do so.

That’s the way it should be and that’s the way it should be left in the liquor license ordinance. It is the essence of our representative system of government.

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