It’s time for Janesville to clean up its liquor license quota system.
Here’s the situation:
For class A liquor licenses—the sort issued to grocery stores, liquor stores and convenience stores that sell packaged alcohol for consumption elsewhere—the city has a quota of 19. That’s based on a formula of one such license for every 3,500 city residents.
Except the city really doesn’t have a quota. It has granted 25 such liquor licenses.
That’s because in 2014 the city council passed an ordinance allowing the council to exceed the quota if the applications are reviewed by the city Alcohol License Advisory Committee.
Class A licenses that exceed the quota are now held by Aldi, Basics Cooperative, Festival Foods, J&R Express Mart, J Town Spirit and Lark Market.
When should a license above the quota be granted? This is what the ordinance says, in part:
“… 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 …”
That seems pretty clear, but it recently caused confusion and debate.
Joe Rollette, owner of the gas station and convenience store at 650 Midland Road, submitted an application for a class A license March 13. The city Alcohol License Advisory Committee issued a negative recommendation May 5, citing the city’s quota as a reason.
The city council on May 11 sent the application back to the committee with instructions to evaluate the application on its merits rather than the quota, saying it was up to the council, not the committee, to worry about the quota.
The committee July 14 issued another negative recommendation, with some members still citing the quota as a reason.
The city council approved the liquor license on a 4-3 vote, with some of those who objected saying the Rollette situation doesn’t fit exceptions outlined in the ordinance.
The alcohol licensing committee now has been tasked with making a recommendation to the city council on how to fix the quota system.
State statutes do not require the city to have a quota for class A liquor licenses, but few people would argue the city should not restrict the number of liquor licenses. Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change and others have rightly argued that too many more liquor licenses could lead to societal troubles.
Here’s our suggestion: Regulate by geography instead of by number. Rather than a numerical limit, the city should consider restricting liquor licenses based on the zoning of the area where the license is proposed and the number of licensed establishments nearby. Existing establishments would be grandfathered in.
In residential neighborhoods, the requirement would be to keep licensed establishments far apart. In a downtown entertainment district, licensed establishments could be closer to each other.
Such an ordinance should allow for clearly defined exceptions. If a grocery chain insists on a liquor license to build a store on the city’s south side, there should be a way that could be allowed.
Whether the city chooses this or some other solution, it’s clear a fix is needed. It’s a bad look for the city to have a quota it’s not enforcing.