Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Liquor Store Spacing

I thank everyone who shared their thoughts and views about the liquor store spacing decision I faced late last week. It was very helpful to hear from so many of you. The responses were quite mixed, with some strongly opposed, some strongly in favor and several leaning one way or the other.

I ended up voting against the ordinance amendment at the Council meeting, but it passed by 7-6 margin. Unless there is a mayoral veto, Council Member Tuthill's proposed ordinance changing the spacing requirements for liquor stores from schools and religious places of assembly will soon become law. The old rule was that new liquor stores couldn't go in within 300 feet of a school or church, as measured from the front door of the liquor store to the front door of the school or church. What passed last week changes the way that the 300 feet is measured to be lot-line to lot-line.

I want to be clear that there were several things about the proposal I found attractive.

I basically support changing the measuring point away from the door. I believe measuring from front door to front door is problematic, because property owners can move doors to allow, or in the case of school or church potentially not allow, a liquor store to go in. As a measure, it lacks the clarity that would allow residents and business owners to know what to expect. If the proximity of a store to another type of use is a problem, moving the door 5 or 10 feet will not change that. I think property line to property line is a cleaner and more stable way to measure.

I was glad to see the word “church” changed to include any place of religious assembly. Increasingly, Minneapolis is home to people of diverse faiths, and any legal protection to one faith’s gathering place should be extended to all.

The Council did receive a supportive letter from the Minneapolis Public Schools district administration. I heard from one school board director that she supported the change. I was especially sympathetic to concerns I have heard related to schools.
Still, despite these attractive features of the proposal, I had enough concerns that I was unable to support this amendment at the time and in the way it came to the Council. I found it problematic for two main reasons.

First, the proposal we saw was not what was presented at the Regulatory Energy and Environment (REE) meeting. The original Tuthill amendment would have changed the measurement from the front door of the liquor store to the lot line of the school or church. It was this idea that had some supporting materials providing, including a map that showed the real effect of this change.

This was not the case with the new proposal. It was (and still is) virtually impossible to know what this amendment will do to the limited number of potential locations for liquor stores now (estimated to be about 8 citywide due to zoning requirements and the other spacing requirement: that liquors stores be 2000 feet away from each other as measured from front door to front door).
What was especially problematic for me was that we received no information about the amendment's impact on new liquor stores. At the very least, we should have seen a map that would indicate which sites will become ineligible for new liquor stores due to this change. We did not see such a map. The Council could very well have voted last week to allow no new liquor stores in Minneapolis because of the few appropriately zoned area and the large number and lot sizes, of schools, mosques, temples, churches and synagogues in the City. We simply don't know. If that is the impact of the ordinance, I needed to know that before voting for it.

The chair of the REE committee, CM Glidden, rightly moved to send this issue back to committee so we could get answers to these important unanswered questions. The Council voted instead to buy a pig in a poke, voting in favor of new restrictions without having the chance to fully understand their impact. CM Glidden’s motion failed on a 7-6 vote.

Second, I was also concerned that ordinance was aimed at one particular proposed liquor store. I prefer to make decisions in a deliberative manner, when we can get the most complete and accurate information possible to craft ordinances that will be fair and in the best interests of the entire city, rather than quickly in order to respond to one, possibly isolated and unique, problem or concern. If one potential liquor store too close to one particular school was the real concern, a narrower solution might have been more appropriate.

Lastly, I also wanted to get a better understanding of the actual public threat or concern that we were attempting to address with this amendment. The Council was given no objective data about crimes, complaints, police calls or other issues related to the proximity of liquor stores and schools or places of religious assembly. Such data would have helped us understand if our current ordinance was even close to addressing a real public health, safety or livability issue, or if it needed further work.

For these reasons I voted to send the proposal back to committee for more work and, when that failed, had no choice but to vote against it. Both votes were on a 7-6 margin.

Here were the votes. For the Tuthill proposal (and against sending it back to committee so we could know what impact it would actually have): Hofstede, Johnson, Samuels, Goodman, Tuthill, Quincy, Colvin Roy. Against the Tuthill proposal (and, more importantly, for having more information before we adopt such a change): Reich, Lilligren, Glidden, Schiff, Hodges and me.
I should note that even before this amendment, there were few if any available locations for liquors in the Second Ward due to commercial zoning requirements (and none at all in Southeast Como). Current liquor stores will not be affected; and as long as they remain liquor stores, they will keep their rights to operate.


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