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Government Local

DeKalb moves toward a simpler liquor code

DeKALB – The DeKalb City Council gave the first nod Monday evening to a proposal that would overhaul the city’s liquor code. Under the new code, it will be at the mayor’s discretion – as the liquor commissioner – whether a liquor commission will be appointed.

Mayor Kris Povlsen described this as being a compromise between city officials who could not agree on whether the liquor commission should exist. The commission could exist if the mayor determines it is needed.

“The value they had was a very viable one and a very important one,” Povlsen said. “But I think because of the changes in the code and where the liquor industry is going now, I think the need has changed. Commissions kind of come and go, and this is one that doesn’t need to meet on a regular basis.”

The liquor commission reviews liquor license applications. Its recommendations are forwarded to the mayor, who decides whether to grant, renew or deny a liquor license or permit. It also gives recommendations during disciplinary hearings.

Under the proposed code, the mayor would retain those powers. An establishment would have the right to a public hearing, and could petition the State Liquor Control Commission or the courts for an appeal.

“In the past, the role of the liquor commission was because we had such a complicated system, it was nice to have a liquor commission to come in and look at what establishment fits what code under what license,” Povlsen said. “Now that we’ve made this a whole lot more streamlined ... the role of the liquor commission ... is a superfluous commission.”

The city’s current code has 21 classifications of liquor licenses; the proposal, spearheaded by City Attorney Dean Frieders, would chop that to eight classifications. City officials and some business owners have spoken on how a simplified code would help everyone.

Frieders has previously described how the current liquor code is confusing and outdated.

In the past, city officials have referenced rules that didn’t actually exist (such as how alcohol can only be served outside in fenced areas next to the building) or may have given liquor licenses to the wrong business.

Each of the eight licenses would have its own set of rules that is dependent on use – how an establishment serves customers alcohol.

“With each type of license, we list what kind of sales you can engage in,” Frieders said. “A bar license can be used for bar sales. Your restaurant area can be used for restaurant sales.”

Frieders said an establishment can have a bar and a restaurant license, but they must be relegated to certain sections of the building with a clear physical delineation.

“We want to know very clearly what’s a restaurant, and what’s a bar,” Frieders said, adding that it is necessary from an enforcement perspective.

If the council gives the proposal the final OK, existing establishments will have six months to decide what kind of license fits them the best.

But not every establishment might fit neatly into one of the eight classifications. Aldermen on Monday quizzed Frieders about how places such as Twin Tavern & Discount Liquors, 1028 S. 4th St., and The House Cafe, 263 E. Lincoln Highway, could fit into the new code without significantly altering their business.

The new liquor code recognizes three businesses as having “special status,” and thus operating under exceptions. Those businesses include Osco Drug, 1322 Sycamore Road, Sullivan’s Tavern, 722 E. Lincoln Highway, and Twin Tavern & Discount Liquors. In an interview, Frieders said he expected The House Cafe to be added to that list of exceptions.

“I have met with the proprietors and we are working on an update to the ordinance to ensure they have a license,” Frieders said.

This special status expires, however, with the termination of their licenses, the closing of the business, or if the owner sells the business.

Frieders said liquor establishments always have had the opportunity to come before the council and air their grievances about the proposal.

But he said the city staff is willing to meet any license holders who might have an issue with the overhaul.

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