Brooklyn Park puts freeze on liquor licenses

wine glass bottle liquorThe Brooklyn Park City Council is placing a six-month moratorium on liquor licenses while it conducts a comprehensive review of its licensing ordinances and policies.

Sparked by a recent license application by MGM Liquors — which wanted to operate next to Festival Foods on Edinburgh Center Drive — the Jan. 22 discussion had council members questioning almost everything about the city’s current regulation of liquor licenses.

At its previous meeting the council had clarified a 2005 council decision limiting the number of liquor licenses in the city south of 93rd Avenue to 12.

In 2005 the city council was concerned about geographical distribution of liquor stores and decided not to grant any new licenses south of 93rd Avenue. At the time there were 12 stores operating south of 93rd. If one of them closed, its license would become available.

But the 2005 council also directed staff to reserve a license for Star Liquors, in case the store wanted to reopen in a new location. Star had operated in a building at the Village North Shopping Center, which the city purchased and demolished as part of a redevelopment effort.

Because seven years passed and Star didn’t apply for the license, confusion arose as to whether the license reserved for Star should be available to another applicant. The council decided Jan. 7 the answer was “no.” Star was  special case, but as a general policy the council would only allow 12 licenses in the south.

But the council had yet to decide whether it would continue to hold a license for Star Liquors and whether that license was exempt from the 12-license limit south of 93rd.

Because Star had no written agreement with the city regarding the license and because seven years had passed, the city deemed it had no legal obligation to continue holding a license for Star. Nevertheless, council members felt the city should honor its agreement but should limit how long the license would be held.

Star Liquor’s owner, Ken Streeter, requested the council hold the license two more years. He said he asked for two years because his company prefers to own and build its own stores.

Streeter said he hadn’t yet moved forward on a store in Brooklyn Park because he didn’t think there was a time limit, because the economy has been poor and because he has been focused on other parts of his business.

“There was no sunset provision or deadline,” he told the council Jan. 22. “I understand that maybe this can’t go on endlessly, so we’re respectfully requesting that you honor your commitment to us to locate anywhere in the city … We were a good business in your community for a long time.”

The council seemed generally to agree with Streeter’s proposal, although some thought two years was too long. But the council decided it couldn’t act on Star’s case until it revisited its policies about the density and number of liquor licenses it should allow in the city.

Council members Rich Gates and John Jordan said they think the 93rd Avenue line is no longer appropriate. Gates said he’s more concerned about how close stores are together.

Councilmember Mike Trepanier asked to hear from Police Chief Michael Davis on the issue and whether it affects crime rates.

Davis said it does, but it’s a complex issue.

“It is about proximity and the proliferation of liquor stores in a particular area, but it’s also … where that liquor store is located with respect to our issues and where crime is already occurring and the demographics of that neighborhood and the level of poverty in that neighborhood,” he said. “There’s a number of factors that I believe (are) important for the council to take into account with respect to the location of off-sale liquor stores.”

The council decided it needed more information before it could make a decision, and council members seemed especially interested in learning how similar cities regulate the number and distribution of liquor licenses.

The council directed staff to study the issue and to gather input from residents.

In the meantime, the council decided to put a hold on liquor licenses.

As Councilmember Peter Crema put it, “Let’s table everything, do it right once.”

The council unanimously agreed to put a six-month moratorium on issuing liquor licenses in the city. Staff will draft an interim ordinance for the council to consider at a future meeting. The proposed ordinance will include recommendations as to whether licenses currently in the application process should be exempt from the moratorium.

Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]