Liquor License, Entrance Location Hampers Potential Hotel Development

At last night’s Common Council meeting, a resolution to create Tax Incremental District 12 failed, as did an ordinance proposal related to the project. Members of the public, business owners, and several aldermen expressed concerns prior to and during the discussion due to the new hotel development potentially planned for that location.

“I think that maybe there were folks that thought if they approved one they automatically approved the other. There were two issues. There was the creation of the TID and then there was the hotel project,” said Mayor Bob McManus. “Council decided they wanted to talk a little bit broader on it and that was fine. I was very pleased in the discussion that took place. I felt the community involvement was great.”

The two issues are closely linked, with the creation of the TID opening the potential for the hotel development. The hotel development sparked reaction due in part to its proximity to Grant Elementary School. The vote was 5-4 in favor of the TID, but the resolution to create the TID failed as the resolution needed 6 votes to pass. “No” votes were Alderman Earl, Alderman MacSwain, Alderman Zaleski, and Alderwoman Spiros.

Ordinance No. 1399 also failed last night, with a 5-4 vote in favor with lack of majority. “No” votes were Alderman Earll, Alderman Witzel, Alderman Zaleski, and Alderwoman Spiros.

Prior to the approval of this project, City staff proposed modifying the zoning code regulations to increase the allowable height for a principal structure in the “CMU” Community Mixed Use district and to modify the regulations to allow more flexibility in where customer entrances for a hotel can be located. The proposed amendment would have allowed for more flexibility in the location of new customer entrances.

“You need to have the entrance of something like that as far from residences or something like that. They were looking to get that cleared up a little bit,” said Mayor Bob McManus. “We have a lot of questions on the entire hotel development. That would be one of them.”

During the meeting, when Alderman Jason Zaleski asked “why now” regarding the change, City Planner Bryce Hembrook responded that the hotel development had asked about the ordinance.

“Whether it’s this hotel or a different one, we don’t want to stay with this code when we can change it as a soon as possible,” said Hembrook.

If Council had approved the ordinance, the entrance location to the hotel would have had more flexibility and the developer would have had improved confidence of being granted a liquor license.

As one requirement of their franchise agreement, the Hampton Inn property requires a “Class A” Combination Liquor License to sell closed containers to guests for onsite consumption.

Unless waived by a majority vote of the governing body, a liquor license may not be issued within 300 feet of the main entrance of any church, school, or hospital.  (This is measured by the shortest route along the highway from the main entrance of the school to the main entrance of the licensed premises.)

If this proximity requirement was met, the hotel would then be able to apply for the “Class A” license to allow them to sell packaged beer and wine to their guests.

“It’s a very vague criteria, so that’s why I think that they were trying to get it narrowed down a little bit,” said McManus. “Again, [voting the Ordinance down was] the wishes of the Council. If that’s the way they see it, that’s the way they see it.”

In an interview, Hembrook added that staff will be looking to update other portions of City code.

“We have not had a development like this until this hotel developer. That’s what kind of got us to look at the code. This is not a reasonable requirement to have,” said Hembrook.

“We looked at some of the other municipalities that have a similar zoning code to ours and they didn’t have this language in, and if they did they also had a distance requirement. I think it was just when we re-wrote the zoning code in 2013, it had a good intent to be as far away from residential property.”

He added that the code applies to a “new customer entrance”.

“It doesn’t say the ‘main entrance’,”, he said. “The way that the code is written, it’s any doors or entrances.”

City staff are re-evaluating where to place the hotel entrance under the current code, with the current proposal being closer to Walnut than Fig.

“The entrance more towards the northwest is where it would be the most feasible, in terms of taking the code literally,” said Hembrook.

The Eau Claire-based developer, Prairie Lodging LLC, is considering their options moving forward, but declined to comment further at this time.