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Liquor licenses up for discussion in DeKalb

Published: Monday, Nov. 12, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT

DeKALB – American Liquors owner Louis Schoenburg likened the current city effort to overhaul its set of liquor licenses to “trying to re-invent the wheel.”

He also said the city is asking for trouble.

“If there’s too many liquor stores and people can’t make a living, it can become an unsafe situation,” Schoenburg said.

The DeKalb City Council and its liquor commission will have a special joint meeting Wednesday on a proposal to simplify its set of liquor licenses. The proposal, spearheaded by City Attorney Dean Frieders, was first brought up in March.

The proposal would would cut the city’s number of regular liquor licenses from 21 to eight based on use – how much of the establishment would be considered a bar, restaurant or grocery store.

Enforcement would change, as well. Frieders has been a proponent of cross-linking all of the licenses and permits a business has with the city. For instance, if a bar is late on its water bill, it would not be able to renew its liquor license.

The proposal was received favorably in August by both the City Council and the liquor commission. However, Mayor Kris Povlsen said at the time that he wanted to save the debate on the issues until both bodies were able to meet.

Frieders said in an interview that he has heard positive things from license holders about how his proposal would simplify and clarify regulations.

Mel Witmer, owner of O’Leary’s, 260 E. Lincoln Highway, said getting a liquor license for his establishment was very cumbersome. He said he has to re-evaluate the rules in the city’s liquor code to make sure he is not breaking the law.

“Potential new business operators get discouraged,” Witmer said. “I think it’s going to be fantastic to streamline things. “

Frieders said he hopes for a productive discussion between the council and liquor commission on not only the changes he is proposing, but the future of the liquor commission, as well.

“I’m hopeful that the council and the liquor commission reach a consensus on the appropriate role of the liquor commission, and whether the scope of the changes we’re making makes sense,” Frieders said.

Frieders made it clear in previous instances that both the council and commission have a number of policy questions to decide, such as whether certain-size grocery stores should get licenses and whether there should be a limit on the number of licenses issued, as the city currently has, depending on the license.

Schoenburg, who holds a Class A license, said a proliferation of liquor licenses is a danger for the community, especially one with a major university in it. He said any kind of revenue that would have been made by the licenses would be spent on police calls.

“I’m afraid if they go with the plans as is, they’ll be spending more money,” Schoenburg said.

Witmer said he understands Schoenburg’s concerns, and that the city should issue liquor licenses based on the size of its population.

“We don’t want to saturate the market,” Witmer said.

He added that large department stores put pressure on independent stores such as American Liquors at 159 W. Lincoln Highway.

Indeed, the city has kept big box stores such as Walmart and Target from getting liquor licenses, but had to give CVS Pharmacy at 1022 W. Lincoln Highway a license after the company’s lawyers pointed out that the chain did meet all of the criteria.

Frieders previously used this as an example of the confusing nature of the current liquor code.

IF YOU GO...

What: Special Joint Meeting of the DeKalb City Council and Liquor Commission

When: Wednesday at 6 p.m.

Where: DeKalb City Council Chambers, 200 S. 4th St., DeKalb, IL

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