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Two changes proposed for Rochester liquor ordinances

The Rochester City Council discussed two changes to liquor laws Monday that other cities don’t really do – one designed to protect hosts using bartending services and another to decide who gets the city’s last off-sale liquor license.

The Rochester City Council discussed two changes to liquor laws Monday that other cities don't really do – one designed to protect hosts using bartending services and another to decide who gets the city's last off-sale liquor license.

There's only one off-sale liquor license left out of the 26 Rochester allowed under state law, and the city wants to make sure the best potential business gets that license, City Clerk Aaron Reeves said. The city will not be able to increase the number of licenses until the population exceeds 135,000. The only other way to get an off-sale license would be to purchase a business that already has one, he said.

Previously, the city awarded the licenses on a first-come, first-serve basis, but now it is looking to put out a request for proposals.

"Really, nobody is doing this," Reeves said. "Other first class cities have other requirements that make sure they won't get to their cap," like proximity laws.

Reeves told the council about the RFP interest at a previous committee of the whole meeting in August, then showed the council a draft at Monday's meeting. In the RFP draft , criteria for evaluating a business applying for the license include economic impacts, like the number of jobs created, a lack of an adverse impact on the community, a qualified owner and operator, and the uniqueness of the business.


"I think this is a good start. The question is, once this is done, once the license is created, what if they don't come anywhere close to their projections? Do we have any recourse?" Council member Bruce Snyder said.

The city could reevaluate businesses when their licenses come up for renewal annually, if they so choose, Reeves said.

One requirement in the criteria said the liquor store can't be located "too close" to churches, schools or parks, but the council asked Reeves to remove that part after Council member Michael Wojcik raised concerns.

"No matter where you set that, I think you're going to wipe out all of downtown because we have a mosque right in the heart of downtown," Wojcik said.

Wojcik also said liquor stores have less crime than convenience stores, and he said the type of zoning that would exclude liquor stores from these areas is outdated and something the city is trying to get away from as it updates it comprehensive plan.

"This kind of flies in the face of that," Wojcik said.

Council member Mark Hickey said he thinks the proposal just needs some tweaks to be more streamlined.

"I like the RFP process. I think we maybe just need less ordinance here. … I think the concept is great," Hickey said.


Bartending services

Another change to the liquor ordinance relates to bartending services using potentially misleading advertising. The services are used by hosts for parties in their homes, where the liquor itself is provided by the host and not sold to guests, Reeves said. In advertisements, the services say they provide insurance, though the bartender is just covered by liquor liability insurance, not the host, he said.

"People think they're hosting an event where they're covered, but they're not … They're lead to believe there is insurance," Reeves said at Monday's committee of the whole meeting.

The council previously discussed the topic at a meeting in August and directed the city attorney's office to come up with some potential changes to the ordinance to address it.

Deputy City Attorney Dave Goslee drafted language to add into the liquor ordinance that would require these companies to provide insurance for the hosts and proof of that insurance to the city clerk's office, or proof that the host decided to waive insurance.

"This ordinance goes farther than we've ever gone as far as protecting a party host, and it goes farther than any other city probably. … You may consider it to be overkill," Goslee said.

The council decided that option of needing to prove insurance to the city was too much. They directed Goslee to change the ordinance language and have bartending service providers give the city a copy of an agreement between the service and the host. That way, they said, the host is informed about what's covered by insurance and what's not.

"At some point, there's some personal responsibility. … Where's the line here where it becomes onerous and more government, not less?" Council president Randy Staver said.


In the council agenda packet, Reeves wrote that he's heard complaints about a potential ordinance, which say the council is overreaching into private business and a proposed change to the ordinance could result in unqualified bartenders serving drinks instead.

"You're going to have Uncle Joe serve them," Reeves said. "It would potentially increase the risk for issues when you have an untrained bartender serving."

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