City Council aims for stricter liquor laws

The Minneapolis City Council — though divided on the issue — is taking up measures to make stricter liquor laws in the city.

One such ordinance passed on a 7–6 vote Feb. 25 and another is scheduled for a second committee meeting in March.

City Council Member Meg Tuthill (Ward 10) authored both ordinances.

The first, which passed the City Council by one vote after a heated debate, will make for stricter distance requirements between new liquor stores and schools and churches. Under previous city law, a liquor store could not have its main entry within 300 feet of the door to a school or church. The new ordinance changes that law so that instead of door to door, the distance is measured from property line to property line.  

While the change may, on the surface, seem insignificant, it will have a great affect on Dan Kerkinni.

Kerkinni, 26, is a laid-off financial analyst who has been working for the past several months to open up a liquor store at 2546 Hennepin Ave. S. in the space that is currently a U.S. Bank. According to the landlord, U.S. Bank will be closing that location in September.

The door of that location, which Kerkinni had negotiated a lease agreement for, is more than 300 feet and four lanes of Hennepin Avenue from Jefferson Elementary’s doors. But the school’s playground is right across the street, less than 300 feet from the proposed liquor store.

Kerkinni said he met with Tuthill six weeks ago to let her know of his plans, and said he feels she wrote the ordinance as a way to prevent him from opening his businesses.

Tuthill said she has been working on an ordinance for liquor stores all winter, before Kerkinni approached her.

She added, however: “I have been approached … from people that have heard of the potential for a liquor store going in across the street from a school. People are very concerned about it.”

The ordinance passed despite strong opposition from council members Robert Lilligren (Ward 6) and Elizabeth Glidden (Ward 8). They said the measure was moved along too quickly. City staff had not prepared a map and report outlining the affects of the ordinance in other places in the city, or answered the question of whether it might prevent future small businesses from opening.

“It just seems so corrupt and broken,” Kerkinni said after the council decision. “How can you make a decision without all the information?”

Second effort aimed at noisy outdoor patios

Another ordinance would put restrictions on bars and restaurants that operate outdoor patios, except in Downtown. Tuthill’s ward includes bars like The Drink, Stella’s Fish Cafe and Uptown Cafeteria, which are known for their popular rooftop patios.

The ordinance would limit the capacity of an outdoor area to the number of seats. In other words, if a bar has 25 outdoors seats, only 25 people could be on the patio.

It also would require bars to turn their outdoor music off at 10 p.m.

Bar staff would have to post a sign in the outdoor area telling patrons to “refrain from creating excessive noise and to respect neighboring residents and property.”

Establishments would have to clean up trash after bar close within 100 feet of the bar.

Randy Stanley, divisional vice president for Parasole Restaurant Holdings, said none of the new rules would affect his company’s Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group restaurant, which has a 191-seat “Sky Bar” on its third floor.

He said the maximum occupancy in the Sky Bar was already equal to its seats. Parasole prints reminders on the Uptown Cafeteria menus to keep the noise down, and staff regularly picks up trash from the surrounding area.

“We’re interested in maintaining our relationship with the neighbors,” Stanley said. “We get that it’s a neighborhood, so we want to do what we can to be a good neighbor.”

Uptown Cafeteria also built a large sound wall along the east and south sides of the patio so noise wouldn’t spill into the neighborhoods.

But Stanley said the noise coming from the patios in Uptown was only a small part of the problem. The bigger issue, he said, was the noise from people who walk through residential areas after bar close.

He said he was trying to get Uptown bars to pool their money to hire security and staff to keep the area safe and clean.

“That’s of interest to us,” Stanley said. “To find out how to keep people from getting too crazy when they leave late at night.”

The ordinance had a public hearing before the Regulatory, Energy and Environment Committee on Feb. 14.

It was tabled after Lisa Goodman (Ward 7) told the committee the measure would have unintended effects. Though the ordinance was aimed at residential areas and not Downtown, some bars right on the edge of Downtown would be subject to the new ordinance.

Goodman used the example of Joe’s Garage near Loring Park. That restaurant has a big rooftop patio, but because it is technically outside of Downtown, it would have to follow the proposed ordinance.  

Joe’s Garage, Goodman said, is not a problem in its neighborhood.

“I don’t want to fix what’s not broken,” Goodman said.