Thursday, August 12, 2010

Grandview Aldermen Discuss Downside of Liquor License Limits Near Churches

By Seann McAnally
Is the proliferation of churches in Grandview’s downtown hurting the chance for new business owners to open up shop there?
Only if they plan to sell alcohol.
The Grandview Board of Aldermen last month directed city staff to explore ways to change the existing ordinances regarding where liquor can be sold.
Currently, a business cannot obtain a liquor license if it is 100 feet or less from a “place of worship.” That’s stricter than state law by some 100 feet.
“Actually, if its within 100 feet of a church they can get a license with the written permission of the church,” said Becky Schimmel, city clerk. “But if it’s this close (75 feet) then they can’t get one even with the church’s permission.”
That means trouble for anyone who wants to buy the former Main Street Inn, and that’s what has some aldermen worried.
When Main Street Inn closed, its liquor license expired 30 days later. If a new owner had purchased the building during that time, the liquor license could have been renewed. Now, it can’t.
“It’s not going to be easy getting a new restaurant in there if they can’t serve alcohol,” said Alderman Jim Crain. Aldermen Leonard Jones and Annette Turnbaugh echoed Crain’s concerns.
Until it closed, Main Street Inn could serve drinks, despite the presence of several nearby places of worship, one of which is directly across the street. But the restaurant, which was open for decades, had its liquor license “grandfathered” when local liquor laws changed in the 1970s.
City Administrator Cory Smith said city staff would look into ways to change the ordinance, but advised proceeding with caution.
“You’ve got to remember there was a reason the law was changed in the first place,” he told the board.
Jan Martinette remembers why.
A former state representative and Grandview mayor, she was also married to the late Gary Martinette, another former mayor. She said Grandview was a very different place back then.
“Originally, Grandview was so conservative they would not allow liquor by the drink at restaurants,” Martinette said. “Later, they passed the ordinance we have now, and that took years. It was a very conservative community back then.”
Martinette mentioned that a former Holiday Inn hotel was constructed so that the bar and restaurant portion of the building was in Kansas City, and the rooms were in Grandview.
It’s a very tricky issue, say aldermen.
“Obviously, I’m not against any church or any religion,” Crain said. “But with the economy the way it is, businesses are struggling and rents have fallen. That makes some retail spots affordable for churches. So we’ve seen a proliferation of churches in our downtown.”
That’s not a problem, he said – but what is a problem is reconciling the presence of several churches with the city’s mission to revitalize downtown. Many of those retail spaces, he said, are ideal for restaurants, especially Main Street Inn. 
“This makes it very difficult for a restaurant to operate,” Crain said. “Lots of folks like to have a drink with dinner. That can be up to 30 percent of a restaurant’s sales. It’s difficult to bring a new business like a restaurant to our downtown area when they know up front that they’re not going to get that.”
He also worried that potential new restaurant owners might not learn about Grandview’s stricter-than-average ordinance until it’s too late.
“Businesses sell to businesses without the city ever getting involved,” Crain explained. “What happens when a new business owner comes to the city for an occupational license, and oh, by the way, a liquor license, and they’re told they can’t get one? The new owner could very easily have a legal recourse to get out of the deal.”
That being said, Crain said he and the other aldermen support the basic idea behind the current ordinance.
“We’re an old-fashioned town and we don’t like liquor sales to be too close to churches and schools,” he said. “But we have to decide what we want our downtown to be.”
One reason city staff must research the issue is that it might not be possible to relax the ordinance in just one area, such as downtown.
“A lot of times, these things have to be applied evenly across the board,” he said, referring to all parts of the city.
Meanwhile, he said, churches can exist in every zoning classification.
That bothers some longtime residents.
“I don’t think churches should be allowed to go into established retail space without paying taxes of some sort,” Martinette said. “That robs us of the opportunity to put anything in there that will raise sales tax. This city lives on sales tax.”
Smith also reminded the aldermen that it’s not just churches that don’t like liquor sales.
“We have several businesses downtown that don’t want anyone selling liquor near them,” he said, referring to a pending liquor license application for the former O’Reilly Automotive building that has been opposed by some of its potential neighbors on Main Street. A public hearing on that particular issue – which is unrelated to the church ordinance – is scheduled for Aug. 23. Call 31-4800 to confirm meeting dates.

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