Brainerd City Council: City imposes 30-day liquor license hold
On-sale liquor license applications are on hold for 30 days, per a moratorium passed by the Brainerd City Council with a vote of 5-2. "We feel the need to take a look at our liquor (license) ordinance as it is currently written and do some resear...
On-sale liquor license applications are on hold for 30 days, per a moratorium passed by the Brainerd City Council with a vote of 5-2.
"We feel the need to take a look at our liquor (license) ordinance as it is currently written and do some research whether or not we're even meeting our own liquor zoning ordinance," City Planner Mark Ostgarden said of the moratorium. "Hopefully at the end there won't be any winners or losers as the result of this process, but we're going to have to take a look at that."
The resolution-initially suggesting a possible six-month time frame-was billed as a means for the city to reassess the murky nature of its liquor zones. The zones are products of statutes City Attorney Joe Langel characterized as poorly formulated and unclear to the point city officials are unsure just which establishments are eligible for a liquor license and how many should be granted.
"It's not clear how many licenses are counting against that cap because how you're defining businesses out there and it also depends on which businesses that exist out there are grandfathered in," said Langel, who noted there may be no more licenses to issue. "We're just asking for some time to get our ducks in a row, if you will-six months is probably way more than what's necessary."
Council member Sue Hilgart said she would oppose a six-month moratorium on the grounds it would deter prospective businesses from establishing themselves in Brainerd.
"It says that Brainerd is closed for business for six months," she said. "It means, for six months, if businesses are looking at Brainerd, don't bother, look elsewhere. I'm totally opposed to it and I can't support this resolution as it's written."
Currently, by state law a city is allowed to grant 12 on-sale liquor licenses in its borders, while the city of Brainerd has traditionally opted to limit to six such licenses within its downtown liquor zone-the largest and primary area for these establishments. The moratorium does not affect current licenses, which are slated to be renewed July 1.
However, council member Gabe Johnson-who, along with Council President Dave Pritschet, represented the dissenting votes-questioned the need for a moratorium.
"Why do we need to put a moratorium on a 17-year law that we spend like $8 million a year in payroll, shouldn't staff be monitoring this?" Johnson said. "How did we get so far afield?"
Johnson cited statutes that stipulated a cap of six non-restaurant, solely alcohol-selling establishments-already accounted for, he noted, by Shep's on Sixth, O'Neary's Irish Pub, SE'z Bar, The Pit Stop, The Parlor and 9th Street Social Club.
In response, Langel said some of those establishments may fall under a "poorly written" and "unclear" grandfather clause and, therefore, wouldn't count against the cap. Grandfathered establishments-licensed prior to 2001-may count against the cap, or fall outside these parameters. As such, there still may be liquor licenses to issue, or there's the potential the city could inadvertently undermine its own statutes by granting licenses above the cap.
Langel said a review of the grandfather clause may point to a larger discussion council members could explore-whether there should be a liquor zone or caps on these establishments in the first place. In addition, he noted the definition of a restaurant in these statutes is also vague and unclear.
"It's a policy issue. Do you still want to have these zones, do you still want to have these caps-do you want to have these caps, as opposed to some other cap?" Langel said, noting it may be prudent to clearly establish guidelines before current licenses are renewed. "You can keep as it is, just with some clarification."
Pritschet asked Langel how this cap would affect the potential arrival of microdistilleries into Brainerd-invoking a point of discussion and zoning amendment changes the council made during Monday's meeting and in prior gatherings. Langel answered the cap may deny these businesses the ability to operate.
Council member Kelly Bevans said he understood both Langel and Johnson's respective positions-though, he noted, he would prefer a moratorium on the grounds it's better to be fully apprised of a situation versus going forward on incomplete information, even if it seem a cut-and-dry assessment.
"If we're going to ask 'Where should we go from here?' I'd like to know where we're at," said Bevans, who noted at least one example of an establishment with which the council made an exception regarding its location outside the liquor zone and its seating numbers; a decision that further "fudged" the issue. "We need to clarify where we're at."
Other ideas tossed around by council members included limiting a moratorium on liquor licenses for a specific zone, or whether the council could advertise and accept applications for liquor licenses without approving them during the moratorium.