Alcohol was on the agenda four times at the June 23 City Council meeting. Council approved one matter without discussion or controversy; two passed but with dissenting votes; and the last was introduced after a confusing amendment was withdrawn.
The least controversial matter was the Piccolo Theater’s beer and wine license that would allow the Piccolo theater to offer beverages during performances. The City recently created a new “Class U” license for this purpose. John Szostek of Piccolo told the RoundTable that the theater did not expect to make much money off selling beer and wine – he just hoped the amenity would encourage more patrons to attend shows. The Ninth Ward now has its first and only liquor license.
A bit more controversial was the creation of another new liquor license class, Class O, “allowing the sale of beer at automobile service stations which have more than 3,000 feet of interior floor space.” The ordinance would, for now, apply only to the Shell station on Oakton Avenue near McCormick Boulevard.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she would vote against the measure because she has “philosophical” issues with beer at gas stations and “concerns about future sales at convenience stores.”
Driving to a location to buy beer is a non-issue, said Alderman Ann Rainey, whose Eighth Ward includes the Oakton Shell for which the Class O is being created. “We went to great lengths to authorize a gas station at Food For Less,” she said. “Food for Less sells beer, wine, vodka” and all sorts of other liquor, she said.
The Class O license is “crafted better than the DMK fast food license” because “it limits the license to stores of more than 3,000 square feet.” The new ordinance passed by a 7-1 vote.
Ald. Fiske attempted to amend the ordinance for DMK Burgers and Fish by adding language specifying that nothing in that ordinance could be used to create a right to a liquor license for other type-2 restaurants. It appeared that no one understood the proposed amendment.
Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar said the amendment “centered around this precise issue that’s been framed” in the DMK Burger debate. The license proposed would be limited to DMK. Several aldermen pointed out that every license is limited to the applicant alone. “The more I’m speaking to this issue the less clear it is,” said Mr. Farrar, after several efforts to clarify had been made.
Ald. Fiske withdrew her proposed amendment, and the ordinance was introduced. DMK must return for yet another meeting, their fifth, when Council will finally vote on their application.
Coming soon will be further amendments to the liquor code, perhaps creating more classes on the heels of a complete overhaul that eliminated several classes mere months ago. It may be better that the City keep tweaking until it creates a workable system for both residents and business owners.
Finally, the City’s lone distillery, FEW Spirits, sought a $25,000 loan through the City’s Economic Development department. The loan would be used to expand the production facilities to both increase output and allow for more tourists coming to Evanston just to see the facility.
While the matter was not discussed by Council, the vote was not unanimous but passed 6-2. Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, who often opposes City expenditures for private businesses, joined Ald. Fiske in voting no. The terms of the loan provide for a 10-year repayment at 6% interest, or about $2,775 per month.