City Council adopts liquor regulations

As promised, the Fircrest City Council voted on Tuesday, Dec. 8, to adopt liquor regulations that implement the will of the voters.

Exactly how far we implemented their will is debatable, but it’s a good start.

To recap, 75 percent of Fircrest voters decided on Nov. 3 to end the Prohibition-era ban on serving beer, wine and spirits by the glass in the two business districts on Regents Blvd.

The Fircrest Planning Commission, a volunteer panel of citizens, took the first crack at drafting zoning regulations to implement the new law. The Commission held a public hearing and a public meeting in September and October, respectively. Commissioners heard primarily from residents from the Princeton Street area who are concerned about the impacts of alcohol-serving businesses on their neighborhood. As a result, the Commission drafted the following regulations for consideration by the City Council, which has the final say:

  • The sale, service and consumption of alcohol in the Neighborhood Commercial zone (again, the two shopping areas on Regents) is prohibited after 10 p.m.
  • Any business that obtains a liquor license is prohibited from depositing bottles and other trash in outdoor receptacles between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. (in other words, don’t dump bottles in the Dumpster at night).
  • Sale, service or consumption outdoors is prohibited.
  • Only licenses granted to certain kinds of restaurants are allowed. Taverns, lounges and nightclubs are prohibited.

I’ve heard from a lot more people than the Planning Commissioners, and I felt the Commission’s draft was a bit too restrictive. As the City Council prepared to make its final decision, I drafted an amendment that would make the following changes:

  • Add “taverns” and “lounges” to the list of liquor licenses that would be allowed. My reasoning: those are old words that have negative connotations, but the reality is lots of businesses fall under those licenses. Restaurants that have a separate 21-and-over bar area are considered lounges. Applebees is one example. And many wine bars have “tavern” licenses. To me, the most important regulation that protects the Princeton Street neighborhood is the restriction that no alcohol can be served after 10 p.m. The kinds of taverns we don’t want in the neighborhood wouldn’t want to locate there anyway because they won’t want to close at 10 pm. But a wine bar might be just fine with those hours.
  • Add a requirement that businesses serving alcohol in the Neighborhood Commercial zone (the two business districts on Regents) have to screen their garbage from neighbors’ views. This addresses a longstanding complaint from Princeton Street neighbors who live behind the shopping center.
  • Add the ability to offer outdoor seating, but only if the business gets an administrative use permit from the city, which provides an extra level of oversight.

The Council had a long debate about my amendment. Ultimately, several members said they were not ready to authorize tavern and lounge licenses, especially since we know of no current interest. A majority voted to strike those two licenses from the amendment, but keep the rest of my proposal.

With that settled, we voted on the full package, and Ordinance 1568 was unanimously approved 7-0. The regulations take effect Dec. 16.

So what exactly is allowed under the zoning law?

Beer and wine: Restaurants that provide “minimum food service such as sandwiches, salad, soup, pizza, hamburgers or fry orders,” according to state liquor law.

Beer, wine and spirits: Restaurants that meet specific “food service, kitchen equipment and floor space requirements.”

For those of you who were hoping for more options, such as a wine bar, keep this in mind: all of this regulatory work was done without any known interest by businesses. It’s my understanding that not one business came and testified during the Planning Commission or City Council hearings over the past two months.

If someone wants to open a wine bar or a 21-and-over Katie Downs-type pizza place or whatever, they need to come tell the city. Several councilmembers indicated they’d consider expanding the options if there’s a specific application. City staff estimate it would only take the city 4-6 weeks to update the regulations.

The bottom line is our city is now more competitive with neighboring cities. We don’t control the amount of rent that a landlord decides to charge, of course, so now it’s up to the private sector to try and capitalize on this new opportunity.

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