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ABC announces alcohol license quotas

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Cities in process of drafting ordinances regulating alcohol use

By Marty Finley

Elizabethtown, Radcliff and Vine Grove have received their alcohol quotas.

The Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said Radcliff will receive eight liquor drink licenses and nine package liquor licenses while Elizabethtown will receive 12 package liquor licenses. Vine Grove, which was completely dry prior to the Oct. 4 election, will receive two package liquor licenses.

All three cities have unlimited access to retail beer and restaurant wine licenses. Radcliff is the only city in Hardin County that has full access to all alcohol licenses issued by the state ABC office.

ABC officials released the quotas Wednesday during a meeting with elected officials and local residents at Colvin Community Center in Radcliff, where they answered questions regarding location restrictions, distance requirements, fees and license limitations.

The three cities are in the process of amending alcohol regulations to reflect changes in local law. Elizabethtown heard the first reading of an ordinance revising its alcohol regulations this week while Radcliff and Vine Grove plan to have ordinances drafted in the next few weeks.

Elizabethtown City Attorney D. Dee Shaw on Wednesday said several businesses have expressed intent to obtain retail beer licenses but the city is not accepting applications for package liquor licenses yet.

“But it’s coming,” she said.

Radcliff City Clerk Ashley Russo, who also serves as the city ABC administrator, said Radcliff had not signed off on any licenses as of Wednesday.

Steve Humphress, general counsel for the state ABC, said the local ABC administrator will need to approve any license before the state will review it. Because the three cities are in the process of drafting ordinances, the state will allow officials time to finish before issuing licenses, he added. The state’s review period of the license starts after the local administrator forwards the application and can take 30 to 45 days to complete.

Radcliff Councilman Edward Palmer asked Humphress if cities have any authority concerning location restrictions and distance requirements for alcohol establishments such as bars and liquor stores. Palmer said Radcliff officials are concerned about a heavy concentration and want to know if they can impose limitations that will restrict the creation of strips or a “red light district.”

Humphress said cities have some discretion in where alcohol establishments can be placed, which can be reflected in zoning laws. However, he said distance restrictions from churches and schools has been challenged as unconstitutional.  
Humphress said the local ABC administrator has the authority to deny a license on a number of grounds as long as it is a legitimate reason. Location may be considered among the reasons.

“It can’t be because you don’t like the person,” he said.

Applicants denied locally can appeal the decision to the state ABC board, where it will be reviewed.

He said the ABC also uses its own discretion in granting licenses and will consider issues such as the area an establishment will be located in and local response to the license. Humphress said the state may deny a license if there is a strong backlash from nearby residents in the area.

Officials also said applicants will need to provide a physical location to be considered for a license.  

The ABC is used to receiving more applications than available licenses for liquor drink and package liquor licenses. In those cases, the state administrator contacts the local administrator and visit the location to assist in determining who gets the licenses.

Humphress also said the quota licenses can be transferable and only can remain in dormancy for a maximum of two years. A licensee is granted up to a year to hold the license without using it and can request an additional year if there is an understandable reason for doing so, he said.

From there, the license will be revoked and awarded to someone else.

“You can’t just sit on it,” he said. “Basically you’ve got to use it or lose it.”

Humphress also reiterated fourth-class cities, which include Elizabethtown and Vine Grove, can by ordinance declare an economic hardship to obtain restaurant drink licenses, which lowers requirements on restaurants from 70 percent of sales generated by food to 50 percent. A restaurant still would have to be able to seat 100 people.

If either city wants to obtain liquor drink licenses, a second election will be required. Smaller restaurants, Humphress added, are eligible to pursue liquor drink licenses in Radcliff because the licenses do not have a sales or seating requirement.

Convenience stores or other established businesses seeking a retail beer license, meanwhile, only need $5,000 in food inventory to be eligible. Humphress said the law was put into place to stop businesses from selling nothing but gas and beer.

“That’s not a very good combination,” he said.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com.