Licensing & permit committee discusses increasing number of licenses

At this afternoon”s Licensing & Permit Committee meeting, an agenda item had to do with a proposed ordinance sponsored by Alderperson Rocco LaMacchia, increasing the number of liquor licenses for the city to accommodate Walgreen’s and CVS stores.  The reason LaMacchia gave for this ordinance proposal was “because the CVS store at Green Bay Road and Washington Road was promised a license, but never got one.  Therefore, when ads come out advertising the sale of beer, liquor, and wine at the CVS store, and when the customers can’t buy it there, they go across the street and buy their liquor at WalMart’s.”  Regarding the city’s density rules, LaMacchia said that “generating the licenses doesn’t mean people will get them.”

Tom Morelli, owner of Southport Pantry and Deli at 7506 Seventh Avenue, spoke out during the public hearing.  “The density rules concern me greatly.  There’s a business (Walgreen’s) trying to get a license since seven days after opening.  There is one business with a liquor license six blocks to the east, one five blocks to the south that is almost open, one fifteen blocks to the west, and one fourteen blocks to the north.  We are very well served.  We don’t need to add more.  I don’t see why we need six more.  Has the population of Kenosha risen that much that we need to add that many more?  All it will do is trim the piece of the pie and take away business for those of us who already have a license.  I could see if there were none for miles and miles.  A new store received approval, and they’re not even open yet.  They’re working hard to open.  I’d say go one at a time, on a case-by-case basis.  Otherwise, there will be a melee in here.  The store on 52nd Street applied, and they were denied (Kenosha Fresh Market).”

Alderperson Curt Wilson spoke in favor of the ordinance to expand the number of licenses.  “Competition is good,” he said.  “If it passes the Council, they have another shot at what stores get it and which don’t.  At that time, they’ll consider the density.”

Alderperson Anthony Kennedy asked deputy city attorney Matt Knight if the licenses were generated, would they be available immediately after the Common Council approves them?  Knight said that they would be.  “However,” Knight said, “they’d have to first get approval from the City Planning Commission on the location, then they can apply for a license for the location.”   Kennedy also inquired about the $10,000 reserve license, but Knight said that was only for Class B establishments (restaurants and bars), not take-away locations.  Kennedy said that he was not comfortable with six.  “I’m sensitive to business and to the fact that tax dollars are going to Somers.  Only if modifications are made would it get my support.”

Alderperson Patrick Juliana mentioned that Walgreen’s was before the committee a few months back.  They used to have a license, but gave it up.  He stated that he’d be willing to go for a deferral.  He understands that distributors are not happy with gas stations and smaller stores and the stock rotations which are necessary.  “Yes, there’s more competition, but at what cost?  In this depressed economy, there is a big reduction in mom and pop and big chain stores.  It’s tough being in business.  I concur with Kennedy.  In good conscience and with good business sense, I can’t approve other stores.”

Chairman Jesse Downing passed the gavel and spoke.  “The CVS used to be in my district.  When they were building that store, I told them that there would be no liquor licenses in pharmacies.  They applied for a license anyway.  They even had signs on the building even before they were open, assuming that they’d get a license.  Administration didn’t even know they had no license.”  Downing stated that he didn’t believe they should have a license, and that he was not supporting the addition of six more.  “The City Planning Commission hasn’t denied one yet.  It’s a useless ordinance.  If we’re not going to enforce it, get rid of it.  I’m going to fight it.  They were told when they came in that they wouldn’t get a license.  If I had my way, there wouldn’t be any in gas stations either,” he said.

Kennedy asked Knight if the committee had the authority to create a reserve license for Class A’s, and Knight said no.  There are statutory regulations, and municipalities can’t enter into it.  “There is an archaic calculation to figure out how many licenses can be established,” Knight said.

Wilson made a motion to recommend the ordinance, but it failed for lack of a second.  Alderperson Chris Schwartz made a motion to defer to the next regularly scheduled meeting, which is on October 29th, and that motion was approved by a vote of 4 to 1.  Wilson was the only dissenting voter.  Downing said that they would have a conversation, talk among themselves, and see how best to handle it.

During the Aldermen Comments portion of the meeting, Kennedy again spoke.  “I’m very sensitive to the statement that city government doesn’t respond to business.  If a business has a good plan, it sells a good products, consumers make their choices.  But, I’m looking at what’s good for my neighborhood,” he said.  “Regarding alcohol along the 52nd Street corridor, I was against K-Mart.  Their alcohol sales went up 43% the year WalMart closed, and up 23% the following year.  K-Mart didn’t need to sell alcohol.  Then, with the fire at Walgreen’s.  Alcohol sales were 0.02% of their total sales volume.  They increased the alcohol in the district.  It was uncontrolled.  I was lied to.  They got caught selling without a licensed bartender.  They pulled the product off their shelves.  They didn’t train their people on our regulations.  It’s their job, not our job.  Walgreen’s on 52nd Street, removed beverages lines to sell alcohol.  Now, there is less access to non-alcoholic beverages, and they’ve increased their alcoholic beverages.  That is not a formula that works for me,” he said.  And, regarding Kenosha Fresh Market’s beer license, “They never applied,” said Kennedy.  “Problems are multi-faceted.  I reject the conjecture that were’ not for business.  It’s rare that we deny a license.  We try to help small business.  Again, it’s not my job to determine who will be successful.”

The author had also spoken out against the proposed ordinance at last Monday night’s Common Council meeting.  To view her comments, click here:  Common Council Meeting, Monday, October 1st, 2012.  Her comments start at the 3:37 minute mark.

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