To lift or not to lift a liquor moratorium on Ashland in Moreno's 1st Ward -- that is the question

Date: 
10/20/2012
MtgAud

In exploring whether to lift a liquor moratorium on Ashland Ave. between Augusta Blvd. and Division St., 1st Ward Alderman Proco "Joe" Moreno hosted a community meeting Thurs., Oct. 18, beginning at 7 p.m. in The Bedford, 1612 W. Division. Currently the moratorium restricts any new package goods liquor licenses being granted along that stretch of Ashland, ending at Wells High School.

MorenoAtBedford

Alderman Moreno and others listen to those making comments

The Alderman is considering the removal of the moratorium on behalf of a local business, Garden Gourmet Market (GGM), 1130 N. Ashland Ave. GGM has approached Moreno's office asking to add packaged goods liquor sales (Beer & Wine) to their existing grocery business.

Moreno sited that his desire to work with this local business stemmed from what he feels are limitations in the current liquor licensing structure in the Chicago Municipal Code. He further stated that this attempt was to provide local small businesses within his ward an opportunity to compete with larger big box businesses. He feels utilizing the “plan of operation” tool is a way to address the current “all or nothing” restrictions that exist in the liquor license legislation.Moreno’s proposal to local residents was to utilize the “plan of operation” to address community groups and residents concerns. He believes the community's interests can be protected utilizing the administrative tool in a different manner other than what it was originally designed. Furthermore he was interested in hearing resident’s opinions on his proposal. He indicated that his concept would require that the agreed upon “plans of operation’ stay in place with the license if the license was to be sold to another operator.

Traditionally, “plans of operations” are administrative tools utilized by the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing in the public nuisance license hearing process to address existing license holders business activities that are negatively impacting their local community as well as a tool for appealing specific business license denials.

Currently, license holders that have numerous complaints regarding their business activities work with the licensing authority, community residents, local alderman and law enforcement officials to address complaints by developing a “plan of operation” in advance of the Department of Business Affairs proceeding to revoke the existing license. The process and monitoring of the plans of operations fall to the local residents and local law enforcement to communicate failures in the business practices or violations occurring on the licensed premises to initiate the regulatory action from the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

The Alderman detailed his proposal to lift the moratorium under the condition that the applicant, Garden Gourmet, be required to submit, along with their packaged goods application, a “plan of operation," which would have been negotiated and previously approved by the Alderman. In the case of the GGM, they would limit their ability to sell certain products or restrict operational activities for their business and that the City of Chicago Local Liquor Commission would use the plan as an enforcement tool after the license issuance.

After a brief overview presentation by Alderman Moreno, community residents asked questions and shared their views regarding the potential moratorium’s removal.

Suzanne Wahl, East Village resident, asked the Alderman about who would be responsible for the enforcement of the plans of operations in the event that this license was approved. The Alderman indicated that the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing would monitor his proposed percentage of liquor sales. The liquor Commissioner, the Alderman’s Office, local police and participation from area residents would monitor the business activity.

bottles

A "collection" of residue displayed by Kelly Boehm

Marshfield Block Club member Kelly Boehm displayed a table full of empty liquor bottles that she had removed from the front of her home during the last week. Kelly wanted to demonstrate the daily burden placed on her family and other neighbors who deal with current licensees in the area that do not follow the law and encourage public drinking. Her position was clear that there are current problems which are not being addressed. "Why expand the potential for further liquor sales," she asked.

Many residents expressed that their concern was not directed at this particular business, however that removal of the moratorium along this two block stretch would entertain other potential licensees to apply for packaged goods sales and create the potential for a legal challenge on the grounds that any new licensee is receiving a different (unfair or placing their business at a disadvantage from other licensee in Chicago) license benefit from the City of Chicago, and that any potential businesses could apply and have their license issued specifically as required by law without plans of operation and that any legal action could nullify this plan of operation. Once lifted, the Alderman would be legally required to wait one year to replace the moratorium.

Rob Schickel also a resident along Marshfield, addressed his concerns that ultimately the decision regarding the enforceability of the City of Chicago’s liquor application denials or challenges to the laws fall to the State of Illinois License Appeal Commission. That Commission consists of state appointed Hearing Officers who hear challenges regarding liquor license applications and could override any license denials or challenges to the City of Chicago liquor license laws. Mr. Schikel's concerns are that the true final authority was in the hands of this governing body regarding liquor license challenges, not the local Alderman or the Local Liquor Commissioner. Keeping the moratorium in place would prevent appeals going to the State Commission.

Mr. Schickel further indicated that his block club members along Marshfield had previously dealt with bad licensees, and that if the Alderman proceeded to lift the moratorium that they felt they had the signatures to vote the local precinct dry and end the constant request for liquor licenses. He did express concern that any current licensee who operated their business would unfortunately be the collateral damage of his neighbors desire to stop the additional liquor licensing and address the ongoing problems.

Neal McKnight, President of the East Village Association (EVA) shared the organization's position to maintain the moratorium along with other community organizations. The Pulaski Park Neighborhood Assn., The Polish Triangle Coalition and the Wicker Park Committee all support EVA's existing moratorium position to maintain all current moratoriums for the next three years.

McKnight appreciated the Alderman’s desire to support the local business and asked the Alderman about the possibility of exploring new legislation to address the limiting nature of the existing ordinance addressing what the Alderman interpreted as an “all or nothing” license structure. Additionally, he asked the Alderman if, once in place, a plan of operation could be amended. Moreno indicated that that was a question he would need to discuss with the Local Liquor Commissioner.

Anne Shaw, of East Village, shared the common theme of many meeting attendees which is that the liquor is available through businesses like the Jewel and CVS along the same commercial strip. She said that she was at a loss to understand the desire to exacerbate the existing problems with the addition of another license and potential other liquor license applications.

Other residents shared their exhaustion in having to repeatedly deal with the repetitious nature new licenses would bring and the burden of dealing with existing licensee’s who currently negatively impact the quality of lives, not allowing them to enjoy their homes. 

Most felt it was the community, once again, being asked to absorb all the risk for a business owner who chose to open a business along the district knowing that the moratorium was in place. "Now community residents and property owners are being asked to absorb the risk for failed business plans." Additionally, many expressed their concerns that existing problems in the immediate area involving liquor licensees have not effectively been addressed by the Alderman and his staff. They could not understand, therefore, the Alderman's desire to add another license, when there were existing deficiencies existing with current liquor licensees.

Peter Locke and Aaron Bilton, further expressed their desire that the moratorium stay in place as a method to manage a delicate balance that the community has been trying to achieve. Moratorium placement was the planning tool utilized by local residents and community organizations to address the limitation of the license revocation process. That tool places the burden on the local residents and can effectively take years to remove a bad licensee from a community, thus driving the need to place the moratoriums in areas where problems exist. Numerous community residents shared personal experiences regarding business licensees that currently abuse their license privileges and the reasoning as to why they felt the original reason for the placement of the moratorium still exists.

East Village resident Amy Bilton asked what the Alderman needed to receive from the community to have him walk away from this proposal. The Alderman was unable to answer the questions directly and responded that he had not made any decision as of yet pending community input. However, the Alderman conceded that he did have a current plan of operation for this potential packaged goods application.

There were a few residents who regard Garden Gourmet as a positive business that is well operated. They feel GGM is being penalized for other operators' bad practices and the community’s fears of potential new businesses that would do the same. Also sharing support was Susan Aldous, Asst. Dir. of the West Town Chamber of Commerce who expressed their support for the moratorium removal.

The proposed Liquor License Plan of Operation is setup to be signed by Maher Ziad Farhan, President, I & M Import Wholesales, Inc., doing business as Garden Gourmet Market. The text reads:

Application Type: Packaged Goods Liquor License

The City of Chicago Department of Business Affairs & Licensing /Local Liquor Control Commission (BACP/LLCC) and the above named licensee have agreed to the following license conditions concerning the operation of the business:

1.    Operations: Licensee has applied for a Packaged Goods liquor license and has represented to the Local Liquor Control Commission (LLCC) that it will operate as a grocery store and that hours shall not extend beyond midnight seven days a week, except on the following specific holidays; New Year’ Eve, Christmas Eve, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Labor Day and the 4th of July, when the business may stay open until 1:00 a.m.

2.     Product Restrictions: License agrees to sell only wine and craft beers not to exceed 30% of total store revenue. With this intent, Licensee agrees not to sell any size, brand or flavor of the following:

Fortified Wine such as Wild Irish Rose, Night Train, Italian Swizz, Thunderbird or other such fortified wine brands
Special Brews such as all high –gravity malt liquors; St. Ives, Steel Reserve Colt 45, Cobra, etc.
Other products that are intended to provide high alcohol content at a low price.

3.     Cooperation: Licensee agrees that in the event that the LLCC receives a complaint or other information that the business is being operated in a manner inconsistent with this agreement, licensee shall fully cooperate with any investigation and submit any records requested by the LLCC. Licensee agrees to work with the Chicago Police Department, local alderman, city agencies and any community groups to address any issues with the operation of the business. Licensee shall immediately address any public nuisance issues that impact the health, safety and welfare of the community.

4.     Sales tracking and Limitation: Licensee shall purchase and install a computer-based data collection and storage point of sale ("POS") register system capable of generating and storing weekly reports concerning all sales of alcoholic and non-alcoholic items in order to substantiate that sales of alcoholic items does not exceed 30% of total sales. Such POS register system shall be able to clearly distinguish between sales of alcoholic and non-alcoholic items.

5.     Cleanliness: The licensee will monitor the area around the business and the nearby area from open to close and keep it clean, free of garbage and debris. Garbage will be picked up by a private waste management company on a timely basis insuring no over flow of garbage from the business.

6.     Licensee will name a public liaison representative to serve as the agent of the Licensee to members of the community. Liaison will hear all complaints filed by the community and seek to resolve any public nuisance matters.

7.     Licensee shall regularly attend local CAPS Beat meetings and cooperate with the police and community and be proactive about any public nuisance issues.

The conditions of the packaged goods liquor license issued pursuant to this agreed plan of operation are legally binding and may be enforced by the City of Chicago enforcement authorities under MCC 4-60-040. All other conditions of the license are governed by the City of Chicago Municipal Code. Violation of the above stated conditions may result in the imposition of a fine and/or suspension or revocation of all business licenses issued to the Licensee. Violation of the above stated conditions may also result in the issuance of cease and desist Orders prohibiting the activity which violates the conditions of the liquor license.

The conditions of the packaged goods liquor license issued pursuant to this plan of operation shall apply to the business address and License and to all officers, managers, partners, and direct or indirect owners of the licensed entity. The sale of the business to other persons purchasing the stock or membership units of the licensed entity does not void the conditions of the license. Any and all potential new owners of the licensed entity shall be subject to the same conditions set forth in this plan of operation.

It shall be the duty of every person conducting, engaging in, maintaining, operating, carrying on or managing the above mentioned business entity to post this liquor license plan of operation next to the liquor license in a conspicuous place at the business address.

 

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