The Janesville City Council did the right thing Monday when it eliminated the city’s quota on class A liquor licenses.
Well, actually, the city didn’t really have a quota.
For class A liquor licenses—the sort issued to retailers that sell packaged alcohol for consumption elsewhere—the city had a quota of 19. That is based on a formula of one such license for every 3,500 city residents.
Except the city had granted 25 such liquor licenses based on a 2014 ordinance amendment allowing the council to exceed the quota “… when issuance of a license would expand the trade impact of an existing business, or promote redevelopment of an underutilized commercial property or establishment of a new business within the community …”
The result was the city being six over its own limit.
As we said in this space in September, it’s a bad look for the city to have a quota it isn’t enforcing.
The primary concern raised about removing the quota—which isn’t required by the state, by the way—was that it would result in a proliferation of liquor-selling establishments. Organizations concerned about alcohol and other drug abuse worry the community will be flooded with alcohol. Owners of businesses already licensed to sell carry-out liquor are concerned they’ll face a tsunami of competition as more businesses get licenses.
We aren’t convinced the city will be awash in alcohol and alcohol sellers because of the ordinance change approved Monday.
As city Economic Development Director Gale Price told reporter Frank Schultz, the city still has rules and mechanisms that will limit the number of class A liquor licenses. For example, any retailer planning to dedicate more than 80 square feet—that’s an area about 9 feet by 9 feet—to alcohol sales will need to partition off an area of the store dedicated to that purpose.
City Attorney Wald Klimczyk said the city still can deny licenses to promote health or safety or to maintain order.
The city also can deny licenses to applicants with questionable histories.
Liquor store owners such as Pinder Boparai, who operates J-Town Spirits at 1917 Center Ave., worry the ordinance change will invite competition that could drive him and other small operations out of business.
We think his concerns are misplaced. We don’t think the city will see that many more liquor license applications, but even if that was a likely outcome, it isn’t the city’s role to play favorites among businesses. The marketplace, not city officials, should determine what businesses succeed and fail.
The city’s old scheme of maintaining a quota that wasn’t a quota made the city look silly and ineffectual. Something had to be done.
The new ordinance allows the granting of class A licenses with the city still holding the reins.