Business owners expressed concerns at a public hearing Wednesday over proposed changes in alcohol licensing in the downtown area.
Under possible changes to the Alcohol License Density Ordinance, there would be different definitions for new businesses selling alcohol looking to set up shop downtown.
Under existing land use definitions, restaurants are establishments that serve food but no alcohol. Restaurant-taverns serve both food and alcohol and must obtain a liquor license, and taverns sell alcohol and do not include kitchen facilities, according to the definitions.
Under new land use definitions, liquor licensed establishments that serve meals would be categorized as a restaurant-nightclub and could also hold an entertainment license that gives the opportunity for amplified music entertainment.
With the proposal, establishments that hold an alcohol license but do not serve food during all hours of operation would be categorized as nightclubs, and those businesses may also hold an entertainment license.
Amy’s Café & Bar owner Gwen Cassis said she had concerns over the possible financial impact of restricting alcohol-related businesses.
“You know you go into something and build your whole life around it, and what this will affect is our retirement,” Cassis said.
Community activist Rosemary Lee said she does not understand the restrictions and thinks they are hypocritical when people are also asking for more entertainment other than only serving alcohol.
Lee questioned why taverns and restaurant-taverns would not be allowed to get entertainment licenses, saying “that makes absolutely no sense at all.”
Mary Carbine, director of the Business Improvement District, said it is not the ordinance’s intention to restrict entertainment, but if any establishment wants an entertainment license they must be categorized as a restaurant-nightclub. She said the entertainment license is only necessary for amplified entertainment and does not include things like an open mic night or comedy.
Cassis said she was glad that her and other businesses that were grandfathered in are able to maintain their existing licenses.
“We’re happy that our licensing is protected and has some value,” she said. “What we were concerned with was that last year, we were looking at losing the value because we were trying to solve a crisis in Madison and it was at the expense of the value of what we had.”
More discussion related to retail alcohol licenses is necessary, Mark Woulf, the city’s alcohol policy coordinator, said. The ordinance still needs to define liquor stores and accessory retail sales, he said. The difference is that liquor stores primarily sell alcohol while accessory retail locations sell alcohol as just a portion of their overall sales, he said.
The committee does not intend to burden businesses, Woulf said, but to have a method in place for licensing for new businesses coming into the downtown area.
“It’s not our intention to try to change that value, as long as businesses are playing by the rules it’s not our intention to meddle,” Woulf said.
The Alcohol License Review Committee plans to vote on the ordinance on March 19.