Council reverses course, approves liquor sales for convenience stores

by Emmitt B. Feldner
of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – In less than two months, the City Council reversed its position on who should get one of the city’s available retail liquor store licenses.

As part of their approval of liquor licenses for the 2016-17 year, the council approved retail liquor licenses for the Plymouth BP and the Plymouth Clark, both on Eastern Avenue.

At their last meeting in April, the council rejected a request from Plymouth BP for a 2015-16 license, citing the convenience store’s close proximity to two other license holders – Plymouth Piggly Wiggly and Cut Rate Liquors.

That vote was 4-3, with Alderman Shawn Marcom absent. Tuesday’s vote was 7-1, with Alderman John Nelson the lone holdout opposing the licenses.

“The question is, do they meet the qualifications in the ordinance,” Alderman David Williams – who voted no in April but changed his vote Tuesday – asked.

City Clerk/Treasurer Patty Huberty explained that both applicants either had a separate area available for liquor sales or would create one.

The city’s liquor license ordinance, which was recently revised, requires liquor sales to be handled in a separate area of a store with a dedicated entrance and cash register.

In response to a question from Williams, Huberty said the licenses would not be issued until both stores are in compliance with all the code requirements. That would be verified through inspection by the city’s building inspector.

The revised ordinance also increased the number of retail liquor licenses available in the city.

That number had been limited for years to just four, all of which have been in use for a number of years.

The new ordinance tied the number of available licenses to population, allowing one per 1,000 people in the city. That meant an increase in available licenses to eight.

Huberty told the council that the application rejected by the council in April was the 2015-16 license year, but because this application was for the 2016-17 year, the council could consider it again.

Pointing to the proximity rationale for the previous denial, Nelson stated, “I talked to a couple of people who wondered if we had any legal grounds to deny it or not.”

City Attorney Crystal Fieber responded that the ordinance and state law give the council “broad discretion” in granting or denying licenses.

“So yes, you do have a choice. Proximity to other licensed premises is one of the reasons you can deny. There is case law that says you can use that as a basis for denial,” she advised.

That didn’t persuade Williams, who said the city could still face a legal challenge over the denial.

Alderman Jim Sedlacek said if proximity of licensees is a concern, the issue should have been addressed in the revised ordinance.

“If anybody had any concern about too many places too close to each other, it should have been brought up then,” he said of the ordinance revision process. Sedlacek pointed out that it should have been anticipated that one or more of the city’s convenience stores would likely apply for a retail liquor license if new ones became available.

Williams termed the license application “a business decision” on the part of the applicants and that they should be allowed to pursue that business if they wished.

Council President Charles Hansen wondered whether the requirement for a separate room and cash register for liquor sales in the convenience stores might cause confusion for customers.

He pointed out that both stores, Plymouth BP and Plymouth Clark, already have retail beer licenses and are able to sell beer at their regular counter, but would not be able to sell liquor there under the city code.

“None of this is really cut and dried as far as how you should vote,” Hansen observed.

Alderman Jack Fernsler was the other alderman to change his vote from the April denial.

The council approved the list of licenses except for three tavern licenses – for Plymouth Tap, Plymouth Arts Foundation and the Eagles Club.

There were questions about those licenses which the council said it wants to see answered by their next meeting before approving them.

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