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Government Local

DeKalb works on simplifying its liquor code

DeKALB – The city is moving forward with a proposal to simplify its set of liquor licenses, but it could be some time before it becomes law.

The City Council agreed Monday night to move the proposal to its liquor commission, which meets Tuesday. After that, there will be a joint liquor commission-City Council meeting to discuss the overhaul and possibly put a draft ordinance in place, Mayor Kris Povlsen said.

Povlsen said that because of how contentious liquor issues can be, he anticipates the ordinance would have to be voted on twice. He could not say when that would be, but he hoped the council would vote on it by the end of the year.

Once the regulations are in place, the city will devise a fee proposal and have new and existing businesses apply for the licenses, City Attorney Dean Frieders said. Frieders said he has heard numerous, “recurring complaints” from everyone involved in the liquor-licensing process.

“We think we have an opportunity to improve the system for everyone who uses it,” Frieders said.

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

The enforcement of the licenses would change as well. In addition to simplifying the violation process, Frieders’ proposal would also cross-link all licenses and permits a business has with the city.

“If you’re a debtor to the city on one license, on one permit ... it’s going to link to everything else and you’re not going to be eligible for renewal of all of your licenses,” Frieders.

The new code would also clarify current state and local law. Frieders said he often hears that the different classifications are used to add value to a business, which is false.

“There is no ongoing value in a liquor license,” Frieders said.

There are also unintended consequences because of the unclear liquor code. The CVS at 1000 W. Lincoln Highway can apply for a grocery store liquor license because city code allows stores of CVS’s size (between 20,000 and 80,000 square feet, which includes the building and the parking lot) to get one, Frieders said.

“Now if you applied that in a strict fashion to other Class D or Class DD licenses, it may mean the existing licensees are ineligible for a license,” Frieders said. “The regulations as they are written are simply not enforceable, and they result in unintended consequences such as this.”

Povlsen said when the Class D license was being considered, it was only supposed to take into account the square footage of the building. Parking lots were not supposed to be included.

“How it got passed ... I don’t know,” Povlsen said.

The city has also been enforcing unwritten standards, Frieders said. For instance, Frieders said he was told that establishments wishing to serve alcohol outside could do so in a fenced area that was contiguous and only accessible through the building.

“Those requirements, while apparently they have been enforced for a period of years, they are not in our code,” Frieders said.

In a later interview, Frieders said he could not comment on the enforcement of the liquor code before he became the city’s attorney. He added, however, that the code has been enforced consistently under his tenure.

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