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Liquor ordinance repeal receives broad support, passes

At a special hearing of the Pine River City Council on June 18, the coucil repealed an ordinance limiting liquor license issuance within the city.

At a June 4 special meeting, it was brought to the attention of the Pine River City Council that the city had an ordinance in place limiting liquor license issuances to businesses not less than 500 feet from a school or place of worship. The possibility of amending the distance listed in the ordinance was discussed, however, City Attorney Ted Lundrigan suggested against it. He said the city should consider repealing the law altogether, because distance listed in the law would be trivial.

Though the meeting on June 18 was to discuss the repeal of the liquor ordinance, much of the focus was on Ryan Nelson and Jr’s No. 19, the business which depended on the repeal in order to receive a liquor license. It was this liquor license application which revealed the ordinance initially. Jr’s is only 408 feet from the Pine River United Methodist Church.

Points were made on both sides.

“I object to this. I like the ordinance. I like how it stands. I don’t believe our town should be full of liquor areas,” said Pine River Citizen Valerie Derksen. “As a citizen, I just feel that we don’t need more bars on the street.”

“We already have people who come into the library a little drunk during the day, and I hate to see it happen a lot more, so I would say no to this,” said Muriel Erickson from the Pine River Public Library.

Resident Jerry Carlson mentioned that Jr’s was located across the road from a location that hosted Alcoholics Anonymous and Celebrant Recovery meetings.

“These are people trying to get their lives in order and now you’re going to throw fuel to them,” Carlson said.

In the end, the decision was made according to numbers. There were three who spoke in opposition of the repeal of the ordinance, though there were approximately ten present who supported it. Among these were eight members of the Pine River United Methodist church, who also brought a letter of support from their congregation of approximately 50, none of which opposed the repeal.

The letter stated, “We feel that as a result of the small size of Pine River’s business district, along with the number of churches located in town, the current distance restriction makes it nearly impossible for business owners to locate in our business district. We do not want to stand in the way of a business owner’s dream for success in Pine River. Therefore, our congregation has voted to recommend that the city council repeal the ordinance.”

Members of the congregation also said they would like the council to write an ordinance that could limit liquor licenses based on something other than distance.

It was explained that the City of Pine River could only have four bars, but restaurants that served alcohol, like Ole and Lena’s and Jr’s No. 19, did not count toward that number. Currently, only the Pine River American Legion counts exclusively as a bar within the city. Derksen and Carlson said they did not want to see four more bars in the city, and members of the United Methodist Church agreed.

“I don’t want to see four extra bars in this town either, and that weight is on the council’s shoulders. If we don’t want to see four more bars in town, we don’t have to allow it. We don’t have to do anything like that,” Sabas said. “We’re just trying to get rid of this ordinance which says you have to be a certain number of feet away, which makes absolutely no sense to me, whether it’s 50 feet or 500 feet, it’s still a liquor license to someone in town.”

Lundrigan confirmed Sabas’ statement and said, “Issuance of a liquor license is entirely discretionary with the council. You will rule and decide on every liquor license according to the merits of the application. Without regard to how close or far away it is from a place of worship.”

The Pine River City Council voted unanimously to repeal the ordinance. Present were Sabas, council members Patty Melby, and Tammy Hamilton, and City Clerk Wanda Mongan. Tony Desanto and Tamara Hansen were absent, but the council did have quorum for the meeting.

The repealed ordinance once said that liquor establishments could not be within 350 feet of places of worship or schools, however, that was amended to 500 feet in 2002. This ordinance was similar to other ordinances limiting issuances of liquor licenses throughout the lakes area. The city of Crosslake has an ordinance limiting them within 300 feet of schools and places of worship. East Gull Lake and Pequot Lakes each have ordinances banning liquor establishments from within 500 feet of schools and places of worship.

Because he had already paid for fees and insurance for a liquor license, Nelson was able to finish filling out his application for a liquor license at the June 18 meeting. He hopes to have the license in hand and to be serving alcohol in early July.