Officials Taking Another Shot at Liquor Ordinance

After concerns and suggestions from Port Washington business owners surfaced regarding the proposed changes to the city's liquor ordinance, officials have reworked some of the wording in the law, which will now wait until early March for approval.

Port Washington officials continue to clean up wording of the new liquor ordinance while addressing concerns from city business owners, and approval of the law has now been pushed back a couple weeks.

City officials met with several business owners on Wednesday afternoon to dicuss the ordinance, and concerns surrounding the required security plan seemed to continue to top the list.

In applying for a liquor permit, new business owners will be required to present an agreed upon security plan between themselves and Police Chief Kevin Hingiss, and Ald. Jim Vollmar said that leaves him concerned about the potential tenants' rights to negotiate what a responsible security plan might be.

"It's got to be fair for everybody, and there's got to be a method (for) a hearing if you disagree," Ald. Jim Vollmar said. Port's drafted ordinance is modeled heavily on that of Green Bay, where Hingiss said applicants can still present their plans to a licensing committee without the police's recommendation if a security agreement is not reached — and that committee could still approve the permit; Port's ordinance is currently not worded to allow that process.

The security plan as described in the ordinance includes ideas such as trained security staff, cameras on the premises and limits on patrons in the buildings, among other details.

Business owners have been quick to express concern about requiring security cameras, as well.

Maria Kiesow of Pasta Shoppe said the restaurant has security cameras inside the building but have still had theft among employees — and it's not always detectable on the cameras.

"Cameras I don't think are always the answer," she said.

Cathy Wilger, director of sales at Holiday Inn, said a hotel within the company was sued because of a crime that happened, and was caught on camera — but that employees didn't see take place.

"It is a liability to the business, too, to have cameras in their establishments," she said, "and I just want you to be aware that that can happen."

But Hingiss is just as quick to offer his support of security cameras, citing the ability of that video to aid a police officer in doing his job.

Port Washington Main Street Executive Director Sara Grover acknowledged these concerns of existing business owners, but said that she has spoken to a lot of potential new business owners to Port locations that have been talking about security as a priority.

The ordinance also requires new business owners to submit a business plan with their application. Some of the ordinance changes would also have an impact on current business owners when they renew each year, including building inspections to be sure the establishment complies with sanitary regulations and other codes and ordinances.

Though the ordinance already had a first reading at the late January Common Council meeting, City Administrator Mark Grams said the council will redo that first reading at its Feb. 20 meeting in light of the many changes.

"We'll clean it up a little bit again, but what you've got now is 90 percent of what's in (the ordinance)," Grams told business owners of the current draft.

The council will the consider final approval at its March 5 meeting. The meetings start at 7:30 p.m. at Port Washington City Hall.

Greg February 14, 2013 at 04:56 PM
Signs are all that is needed.
Rik Kluessendorf February 14, 2013 at 05:02 PM
I think Vollmar has some good concerns. Without commenting on the meat of the ordinance, I think the process involved is what we have to be very VERY careful about. If the process is one that promotes arbitrary decision-making without regard for consistency and oversight, there is a severe problem that no amount of content in the ordinance will fix. Any inconsistency in the ordinance - where, when applied results in one license being granted by one denied under extremely similar circumstances - is something we should really REALLY have a problem with. The security camera angle is being played out pretty vocally, but I question the business plan angle as well. If the city is interested in business plans for bars, why does it not also demand business plans from other businesses prior to issuing any occupancy permits? The same interests are at issue. If the city feels that it is appropriate to let a business that is destined to fail in 12 months time have an occupancy permit without a business plan, why does it need a business plan from a tavern that could be around for years and years, simply because it is a tavern?
Greg Huegerich February 14, 2013 at 08:29 PM
Could the ordinance constructed so the baseline security requirements match what current establishments have in town? I'm not a fan of new baselines for new businesses that don't require some level of compliance from existing ones. Otherwise, it just turns into protectionism. I do like Vollmar's suggestion of allowing a hearing if there's disagreement on a particular plan. Regardless of who has what job at the moment, having single points of denial in this kind of process is a really dangerous model to build on. The idea of having a baseline tends to work well because its far less arbitrary. Definitely agree on the security camera issue too. While they can make the police work easier, they can also expose the business to lots of liability and legal concerns. Cleaning up the regulation and giving it some teeth in the renewal process is a great way to go though. Business plans for bars tend to evolve a bit over time, and what gets put in at the start may not be what's in play 6 months later (its a hard thing to run one successfully, but relatively easy to quickly tweak things like music, drink specials, promos, bands, etc). The city's ability to adequately respond to a deteriorating situation "should" make the initial business start up process easier, rather than more difficult, as we saw a few months ago.
Terry February 18, 2013 at 10:24 AM
"Definitely agree on the security camera issue too. While they can make the police work easier, they can also expose the business to lots of liability and legal concerns." Common perception, but perception is all that it is. The insurance companies that insure these places prefer camera's as it helps protect them from frivolous lawsuits and claims. As long as the bar is operating correctly, it protects them from allegations of over serving and heavy handed staff.


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