Liquor license issues just won’t go away

THE AD-HOC LIQUOR LICENSE Ordinance Study Committee struggled long and hard with a lot of issues during their year-plus deliberations.

There were a lot of issues the committee wrestled with over those long months – not surprisingly, given the breadth of the topic they were dealing and the number of questions involved.

One thing the committee wrestled with was class A retail liquor licenses. Those are licenses issued to retail establishments that sell beer, wine and alcohol in bottles and cans rather than in single drinks – liquor stores rather than taverns or bars.

In the end, the committee opted to increase the number of class A retail liquor licenses, tying the number of available licenses to population (one per 1,000 of population) rather than the previous arbitrary number, four. That meant an increase to eight available licenses, in effect creating four new licenses.

One point of discussion was whether such licenses should be issued to convenience stores.

It had been the long-standing policy of the City Council not to issue such licenses to gas station/convenience stores, but that had never been codified in the city ordinances, as it is in many municipalities across the state.

It had been a moot point for many years when the number of liquor store licenses in the city was limited to four and those were all spoken for.

For those reasons, the study committee opted not to include a ban on gas station/convenience stores in the final ordinance they recommended to the council.

Part of the committee’s – and the council’s – reasoning was that the requirements in the city ordinance for a separate entrance, separate cash register and other restrictions would make getting a retail liquor license cost prohibitive or unobtainable for limited space/limited resources gas station/convenience stores.

But that has proven not to be the case, as the first application for one of the newly-available class A retail licenses came not from a box store or pharmacy but from a gas station/convenience store – the Plymouth BP on Eastern Avenue.

The store provided plans to comply with the city’s requirements, which brought them in conflict with the long-standing unwritten policy against class A licenses for gas station/convenience stores.

The council, however, did not cite that objection in denying the license for Plymouth BP. Instead, they cited the proximity of that store to existing license holders Cut Rate Liquor and Piggly Wiggly in turning down the request.

That may or may not be a valid reason for denial – it may well ultimately be decided in court, if the owners of Plymouth BP choose to appeal the council’s decision.

But in the meantime, the city is left with an un-clarified issue in its newly-enacted revised liquor license ordinance – namely, should class A retail liquor licenses be issued to gas station/convenience stores or not.

If the council wants to reaffi rm its long-standing opposition to that, it would probably behoove them to add that language to the ordinance or else face the certainty that the issue will come before them again in the future – possibly sooner rather than later.

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