City proposes changes in alcohol rules

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Marcia Nelesen
Saturday, January 4, 2014

JANESVILLE--Janesville's economic development coordinator said two longtime ordinances that govern alcohol sales are barriers to development, so he's recommending they be changed.

Ryan Garcia recommends ending:

-- The quota for Class A licenses issued to places that sell alcohol, such as liquor stores and grocery stores.

-- The required separation of alcohol sales from other sales.

The requirements have been in place longer than the city has records, Garcia said.

The proposed changes will go to the Alcohol License Advisory Commission for its recommendation at 8 a.m. Tuesday. It will go to the city council for a pubic hearing Monday, Jan. 27.

The city has 19 Class A licenses issued. None are available.

Class B licenses are issued to taverns and places where alcohol is purchased and consumed onsite.

The Class A quota is an arbitrary figure set by the city council and is currently one licensed premise per 3,500 residents, Garcia said. The quota can be changed only once every 10 years.

Garcia surveyed 10 other cities with similar populations. Of those, three have quotas, and Janesville's is the most restrictive.

“The Class A quota in effect is the city self-imposing a restriction on the number of a specific type of business that, in the absence of the quota, would likely limit itself (in number) by market forces … ” he said.

A quota isn't needed in a city with a well-trained police department, proper zoning and an alcohol licensing committee, Garcia said.

Past councils have amended or considered amending the quota at least four times in the past 25 years, illustrating a lack of consensus on an “appropriate” ratio to meet the city's health, safety and welfare objectives, Garcia said.

The fact the quota can be changed only every 10 years “effectively ignores potential changes in factors that don't necessarily follow 10-year timelines such as market trends, demographic trends and geographic growth trends within the city,” Garcia said.

Requiring a separation between the sales of alcohol and other products can also be a significant barrier to a retailer, Garcia said.

The separation was required to limit access to minors, Garcia said.

“That's a good, defined motive but, again, we're trying to balance that motive and (asking if) that can still be accomplished with the other tools we have in place,” Garcia said.

A retailer might find it cheaper to open in Beloit rather than Janesville because he or she doesn't have to build and staff two separate outlets in one joined space, he said.

Garcia said he hears all the time how nice it would be to have something like Bushel & Peck's, a downtown Beloit eatery and store, in downtown Janesville.

“It's hard enough, I think, to make something work downtown as it is,” Garcia said. “But if you have to effectively build and staff two spaces downtown—I think you have to have pretty deep pockets.”

National retailers, such as Whole Foods Market and Trader Joe's, might be dissuaded by the city's ordinances, he said.

“If a development like that were a possibility, I would think many people would say that it would be a good thing for our community,” Garcia said. “It's jobs—a market niche—we don't have right now.

“If they (retailers) felt that Janesville would support their sort of business model, I would want to make sure that we could accommodate that,” Garcia said.

If the changes are approved, retailers who already maintain separate spaces to sell alcohol can decide whether to maintain them.

Retailers would continue to be required to put a sliding gate or other barrier between alcohol and customers from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Those selling alcohol would have to be at least 18 years old.

Police department officials were involved in the discussion and believe they have the resources to deal with any changes, Garcia said.

The only concern was self-check outs, and those would not be allowed for alcohol sales under the proposed ordinance.

Woodman's Foods, which has self-checkouts in its alcohol store, would be grandfathered in.

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