The Janesville City Council and the city’s liquor commission haven’t yet made sweeping changes to city alcohol license policies, but both governing bodies want to see a map of liquor sellers.
The big takeaway Friday from a joint meeting of the council and the city Alcohol License Advisory Committee: Members ordered the city to assemble a “hot sheet,” maps that locate and detail every liquor license that is granted in the city.
The request came out of an hour-and-a-half discussion during which members of the council and ALAC said a map would help them make judgments about how and whether the city might exceed the city’s cap on issuing class A retail liquor licenses.
Council President Sue Conley had requested a joint discussion between the two bodies after debate earlier this year over whether to override the cap to grant a new liquor license for a gas station on Racine Street.
Some members of the council and ALAC say they want reform and more concrete rules for issuing retail liquor licenses beyond the quota, while others questioned whether there should even be a cap on class A licenses typically issued to gas stations, convenience stores and other non-tavern retailers.
But the council and ALAC didn’t get far deciding on license issuance policy, and Conley suggested it would require time to review of a city map showing concentration of liquor sales, and at least another meeting of the joint panel before decisions on the class A liquor cap might come.
City Clerk David Godek said the city’s mapping division would assemble electronic maps with locations and labels of every holder of the city’s class A and class B licenses that would help members of the joint panel figure out the geographic footprint of liquor sales locally.
A Gazette map using city data shows locations and names of more than 100 liquor license holders in the city.
Conley asked for the maps as a precursor to more discussion by the panel on the retail liquor license cap.
The city is beyond the cap for issuing those licenses, but the council has continued to issue new licenses under exemptions, at times overriding the ALAC’s recommendations. Meanwhile, at least two new Kwik Trip gas station convenience stores are coming to the north and east sides over the next year.
Both seek class A liquor licenses in excess of the city’s quota.
ALAC member and downtown tavern operator Kevin Riley, was among a clear majority of panel members who say they want a map of liquor licenses that can be updated. He said tavern operators and existing liquor stores are worried about the prospect of the council removing a cap on retail liquor licenses.
Riley said at minimum he would like to see the city place an extra fee of at least $10,000 for any retail license issued above quota. That is how the city manages its quota for bar and restaurant reserve licenses.
“By not doing that (extra fee), you’re diluting the market of the liquor stores that have been in town forever,” Riley said. “The liquor stores are not happy about that because they know that now every gas station on their same block can get a license because there’s already no restriction there whatsoever.”
Riley said taverns and liquor stores have “big concerns” about the liquor license cap being lifted completely. Now, the council can issue licenses above the cap if a retailer shows their plan will improve the business and the property.
Still, Riley said, he’s concerned the council or ALAC might rely on city maps showing the concentration of liquor licenses as a quick, easy way to determine what areas of the city might be saturated with liquor sales.
He cautioned against that approach.
“You’re going to see clustering (downtown or on Milton Avenue),” Riley said. “It’s like a car dealership. It’s how they compete in a district. A map of that looks cool, and it’s a great tool, but I don’t know if it’s a tool to use to say ‘there’s too many (liquor licenses) in one area and not enough in another area,’” Riley said.
In a sideline discussion, the council and ALAC vetted whether to continue its policy of stocking the ALAC, a panel of appointees, with at least one local liquor “industry representative.”
Conley said she’s heard concern that having bar and liquor store operators on the ALAC could at times be perceived as a conflict of interest. ALAC members on Friday made it clear they want to keep an industry insider on their panel to add insights, knowledge and expertise to decision making.
Council member Paul Williams has been on the ALAC for 13 years. Williams said he’s “never” seen a bar owner get appointed to the ALAC and then make decisions that are self-serving or protectionist.
But another ALAC member, Mark Bumpus, said he’s seen times when the liquor commission was stacked with two or three bar owners or operators, and during those times industry insiders on the panel have “swayed the vote.”