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101 1st St NE
Box 12
Bowman, ND 58623-0012

Prohibiting growth? Local bar owners voice concern over possible city liquor license ordinance change

February 20, 2015

Local bar and restaurant owners Jamie Svihovec, owner of Has Beens, Kara Longland, owner of Uptown Bar and Grill, and Rebecca and Joe Cummins of Windy's Bar and Pizza listen as Bowman City Planning and Zoning Administrator Cheryl Ryan speaks to the Bowman City Board of Commissioners Tuesday. (Photo by Bryce Martin | Pioneer) Local bar and restaurant owners Jamie Svihovec, owner of Has Beens, Kara Longland, owner of Uptown Bar and Grill, and Rebecca and Joe Cummins of Windy’s Bar and Pizza listen as Bowman City Planning and Zoning Administrator Cheryl Ryan speaks to the Bowman City Board of Commissioners Tuesday. (Photo by Bryce Martin | Pioneer)

By Bryce Martin | Pioneer Editor | bmartin@countrymedia.net

Several owners of local alcohol-serving establishments voiced their concerns during a city meeting this week to discuss the city of Bowman’s liquor license ordinance as the city has reached its capped amount of available licenses.

The issue discussed at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Bowman City Board of Commissioners arose as multiple establishments recently showed interest in obtaining a liquor license, the most recent of which was Farmers Union Oil Co. in Bowman.

After hearing testimony from several business owners and the commissioners, Joe Liegl, general manager of Farmers Union Oil Co., withdrew his request for a license to sell off-sale alcohol.

Bowman’s current liquor ordinance allows for a total of eight licenses — five full licenses for establishments to serve and sell beer, wine and liquor; two for off-sale beer and wine and one for on-sale beer and wine.

Each of those licenses is currently in use; no more are available. Though, the city commission has the authority to amend its current ordinance to allow for additional licenses.

Following last year’s request by Bowman Lodge for a liquor license — a full license wasn’t available so the lodge accepted a beer- and wine-only license — Bowman City Commission President Lyn James said it could be useful to form a committee to study the city’s liquor license ordinance. That committee, to be comprised of city commissioners, law enforcement and local business owners that already utilize a liquor license, would make recommendations to the city on how it could ultimately alter its ordinance to offer additional licenses.

Additional licenses could provide a climate to attract new businesses, but could come with a price for businesses in Bowman that have since established themselves in the community.

According to Teran Doerr, executive director of the Bowman County Development Corp., the growth occurring in Bowman could result in the need for additional liquor licenses, so the ordinance would need to be expanded.

As co-owner of Windy’s Bar and Pizza in Bowman, Joe Cummins explained his concerns to the commissioners about any expansion of the ordinance. He also balked at the city’s lack of growth.

According to statistics Cummins researched from U.S. Census data, the population of Bowman has actually declined every year since 1910.

Jud Seaman, realtor at Key Realty in Bowman, agreed with the city’s lack of growth. He told commissioners that, while there is always talk of growth in Bowman, he has yet to witness it.

“There’s very little growth here and nothing to drive that,” Seaman told commissioners.

Doerr, who was at the meeting to inquire if the commissioners were interested in moving forward with establishing a committee, said she researched several other North Dakota cities, both large and small, and found that liquor license ordinances across the state had little to no continuity.

Some cities do not limit the amount of licenses but set specific criteria to meet for those businesses desiring a license. Other cities based their amount of licenses on population and zoning. A few cities were found to have different restrictions for their liquor licenses.

The issue is one of governmental “manipulation of the market,” according to Bowman City Planning and Zoning Administrator Cheryl Ryan.

“I know I’m not going to be a very popular person in this room right now, but I get a little concerned because government is supposed to be the guardian of a level playing field,” she said. “When we start protecting some uses without the legislation behind us, that can be a problem.

“But when we actually start protecting uses in one category at the expense of uses in the same category, I think that’s a really strong manipulation of the market.”

Ryan said it is not typical for a governing body to protect a small minority from other businesses that might be coming in. The current ordinance protected local businesses instead of protecting consumers, she said. Because of the ordinance’s restrictions, she said it effectively and unfairly limits competition for existing businesses that serve alcohol. It limits the total amount of licenses to eight and wouldn’t provide licenses to new businesses.

Doerr questioned why the city does not protect any other types of businesses from competition, so why “protect” those that serve or sell alcohol. But the issue of limiting the number of licenses was more of a safety concern rather than limiting the amount of competition between businesses.

An issue of legality also clouded the current city ordinance as the commissioners said they weren’t certain the current ordinance abided by North Dakota Century Code.

Before the city could move forward with any decision regarding the ordinance, James said the commission would need to meet with the city’s attorney, Steve Wild, to ensure the ordinance fully complied with the law.

Jack McDonald, an attorney at Wheeler Wolf Law Firm in Bismarck, told the Pioneer following the meeting that the city’s restriction of licenses beyond a total of eight was indeed legal.

“By ordinance, all cities set the regulations on the number of various classes of liquor licenses. It is legal,” McDonald said.

Following discussion, the commissioners gave Doerr approval to establish a local committee to guide the city on its liquor license ordinance.

While Doerr made no direct recommendation to the commissioners on how the ordinance should change, if at all, she indicated that Bowman could also join the likes of other cities in the state that established an upfront charge for a business to secure a liquor license. State law indicated that fees for liquor licenses could not exceed $2,000, but an upfront “investment” would not be restricted by that stipulation.

Doerr indicated that Washburn has such a charge of $25,000, paid to the city before a business could obtain a license, according to Doerr. Doerr said she would not recommend that large of an amount.

Commissioner Chuck Whitney said that amount was “almost prohibitive.”

James indicated that if any such charge was adopted, the funds could be put towards establishing a ride-home service to further protect the community.

The business owners in attendance appreciated that idea.

Funds from that charge would not go into the city’s general fund, as James indicated. She said the city could “get creative” with the way it allocated such funds. Those initial fees would also help to deter businesses that weren’t necessarily “serious” about obtaining a liquor license.

Because the city is in the process of updating its zoning ordinances, Ryan said a decision on an update of the ordinance would be critical to finishing the code and should be made in the near future.

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