Government & Politics

Compromise could end battle over liquor consents in Crossroads, West Bottoms

Tom’s Town Distilling Co. owners David Epstein (left) and Steve Revare were among those who had trouble with their liquor license under the old Kansas City ordinance. But some objected to the replacement rules and planned a referendum in November. Now both sides of the issue have constructed a compromise.
Tom’s Town Distilling Co. owners David Epstein (left) and Steve Revare were among those who had trouble with their liquor license under the old Kansas City ordinance. But some objected to the replacement rules and planned a referendum in November. Now both sides of the issue have constructed a compromise. tljungblad@kcstar.com

A compromise has emerged in the heated battle over a new liquor rule affecting the Crossroads and West Bottoms areas of Kansas City.

The proposed change, which goes to the City Council on Thursday, could avert the need for a contentious election this November on a referendum petition.

“This compromise is the result of, frankly, hours and hours of conversations with residents, retailers, all the stakeholders,” 4th District Councilwoman Jolie Justus said Wednesday as she addressed the City Council’s Neighborhoods and Public Safety Committee, which supported the changes. The measure goes to the full council for a vote, which would address the referendum petitioners’ concerns and avoid the need for the November ballot question.

The petitioners earlier this summer gathered enough signatures to seek repeal of an ordinance that the City Council approved April 28. That ordinance changed the influence that certain property owners had over liquor license applications, limiting large property owners to no more than 10 percent of the consents within a 250-foot zone.

Supporters said the ordinance gave neighborhoods and small businesses more of a voice in the granting of liquor applications. Recent applicants for liquor licenses, especially in the Crossroads Arts District and the West Bottoms, had complained that property owners with extensive holdings essentially had more than 50 percent of the eligible consents and virtual veto power over their liquor business plans.

But opponents of the council’s April 28 decision feared a proliferation of liquor establishments in the Crossroads and said the ordinance hindered condo residents’ voices. They gathered enough signatures to force a citywide election on the matter.

If the full council approves the compromise, the April 28 ordinance would be repealed and replaced with conditions more to the petitioners’ liking.

“We are in support of the compromise ordinance,” said attorney Patricia Jensen, representing the petitioners.

The new ordinance would apply only to the Crossroads and the West Bottoms, where most of the controversy has been concentrated and which are neighborhoods with an unusual mix of residential and retail uses. Justus said the old consent rules would once again apply in the rest of the city, although she recommends a comprehensive review and possible overhaul of the city’s liquor laws to address ongoing liquor concerns in other neighborhoods throughout the city.

Among the proposed changes:

▪ The cap for large property owners would be raised from no more than 10 percent of the consents to no more than 35 percent of the consents.

▪ Condo owners would have a greater voice in the consents. Under the current rule, condo buildings have one vote for every five units up to a maximum of three votes. With the change, a building would get two votes for the first five units and an additional vote for each additional five units, up to four votes for 15 or more units.

▪ Any request for a 3 a.m. liquor license would require 75 percent of eligible consents, up from just over 50 percent under the existing ordinance.

No one spoke against the proposed changes, although Justus conceded some small businesses aren’t happy, because they liked the April 28 ordinance.

“This compromise is not loved by everybody,” she said.

But 4th District at-large Councilwoman Katheryn Shields called it a solution that works well for most people and avoids the need for what might have been an expensive, difficult election battle this fall.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley

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