Kansas City voters in November will help decide who becomes the next U.S. president, the next Missouri governor — and possibly the fate of the city’s liquor laws.
Petitioners seeking to unravel changes approved earlier this year on how liquor licenses get approved met the threshold Tuesday to force the Kansas City Council to reconsider its vote. Absent that, Kansas City voters would have an opportunity to decide.
The petitioners gathered 3,959 validated signatures. They needed 3,417.
Jolie Justus, a 4th District council member and co-sponsor of the ordinance subject to the referendum, said the matter may head to the November ballot.
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“Right now, what we’re presuming is this will go to a vote of the people,” Justus said Tuesday.
A 9-2 vote by the Kansas City Council on April 28 passed an ordinance that changes how nearby property owners vote on whether a business establishment can receive a liquor license. Council members Scott Taylor and Teresa Loar voted against the ordinance. Taylor said previously he believed the ordinance passed too quickly and didn’t resolve outstanding questions he had about its effects. (Kansas City Mayor Sly James and 4th District at-large Councilwoman Katheryn Shields were absent for the vote.)
Under current law, generally each parcel of property within 250 feet of a liquor license applicant receives one vote. In instances where several of those parcels have a common owner, the liquor license application can fall at the mercy of that owner. For example, if one person owns six of the 10 parcels within a 250-foot consent zone, that individual can have effective veto power over a liquor license application.
The April 28 ordinance, which is on hold because of the referendum, sought to limit the influence of dominant property owners within a consent zone to 10 percent of the vote.
A heated dispute in the Crossroads Arts District between owners of Tom’s Town, a distillery that opened at 1701 Main St., and the building’s former owner, Brad Nicholson, brought the dispute into focus.
Nicholson, who owned enough properties around the Tom’s Town building to give him a majority of votes on their liquor license, used his power to dictate details of the distillery’s business plan, according to Tom’s Town officials.
Nicholson has said he sold the building to Tom’s Town’s founders with the understanding they would make spirits and offer a small tasting room.
Nicholson, who said he had no interest in seeing his property become a bar-type establishment, maintains he relented on several conditions to allow Tom’s Town to serve food and other types of drinks.
The issue has divided Crossroads business establishments and property owners in the arts district.
Snow & Co., a frozen-cocktail establishment at 1815 Wyandotte St., announced in June it would leave the Crossroads for Westport. Jerry Nevins, a part-owner in Snow & Co., said the liquor license issue “pushed us over the edge” in deciding to relocate to Westport.
As a citywide ordinance, the issue extends far beyond the Crossroads. Carol McClure, president of the Southern Communities Coalition, said she has concerns with the proliferation of liquor license applications in her area. Southern Communities Coalition is an umbrella organization of neighborhood groups in southeast Kansas City; it has not yet adopted a formal stance on the ordinance.