Council retains waiver right for proximity rule

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – What a difference a word makes.

The City Council Tuesday removed the word “not” from one sentence of the proposed 28-page liquor license ordinance and retained the ability to grant waivers for tavern licenses within 300 feet of a church or school.

The Ad-hoc Liquor License Ordinance Study Committee had recommended adding a sentence to the section on “Restrictions near Schools and Churches” that read, “This provision is not subject to waiver by the Common Council.”

“I think the council has that authority and should be able to use it as it sees fit,” Alderman Jack Fernsler said as he moved to remove the word “not” from the sentence.

“I am an advocate and firm believer in the 300-feet rule; it’s a good rule,” Alderman David Williams stated. “But I am opposed to restricting any action by this council or any future council regarding a variance.

“I believe this council and any future council will analyze each situation,” he continued. “We are elected by the citizens of Plymouth to do that, analyze the ordinance and do what’s best for the city of Plymouth.”

“There are some situations where we have churches within the downtown and we never know what’s going to happen with properties in the downtown in the future,” Alderman Jim Sedlacek commented.

Earlier, study committee member Sue Kaiser had admonished the council not to change the committee’s recommendation.

Kaiser contended that, through her work on the study, she had come to believe the problem with the ordinance was that it was not being strictly followed.

“Councils from the past as well as our current council were bending and flexing the regulation to fit current situations, businesses and/ or individuals. In some cases the regulations had been so blatantly bent in favor of certain businesses or individuals – it was embarrassing,” Kaiser stated.

“I … feel strongly that that sentence is necessary, quite frankly because I do not feel my council can be trusted to adhere to the 300- foot state of Wisconsin directive,” Kaiser asserted.

Citing an earlier comment by Alderman Jim Faller asking what the council would be able to do with a request for a property 299 feet from a church or school, Kaiser posed a question of her own.

“I don’t know about anyone else, but that question just leads me to think where does it stop? At 250 feet, 200? Or perhaps we’ll lower it to zero feet and be right back where we were when the adhoc committee was formed.”

Kaiser also questioned the increase in the number of liquor store licenses the proposed new ordinance would allow. The committee recommending allowing one license per 1,000 of population, which would mean eight such licenses instead of the current four.

“Do we really feel that four additional retail licenses are going to dramatically increase economic development in Plymouth? Do we really feel that the businesses that receive a license will be increasing their employee base and add jobs in Plymouth? Or are we just increasing … because that’s how many businesses are waiting for licenses?” Kaiser asked the council.

But the council left that section unchanged.

The vote on Fernsler’s amendment was 6-1, with Alderman Greg Hildebrand voting to leave the sentence he approved as a member of the study committee unchanged.

At the suggestion of Council President Charles Hansen, the council unanimously approved an amendment to the section on nonrenewal of licenses.

The section includes a schedule of points for various violations of the ordinance, from 25 to 100 points. It lists different license suspension or revocation penalties for license holders who accumulate 75 or more points in a year.

Hansen noted that the list of violations in the point schedule did not include some provisions added to the ordinance by the study committee.

The amendment directed City Attorney Crystal Fieber to add another section to the point system calling for a 25-point penalty for violating any section of the ordinance not otherwise listed in the schedule.

The amended ordinance was adopted by a vote of 6-1, with Hildebrand voting no and Alderman Shawn Marcom absent.

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