McMinnville officials are trying to drink up all the possibilities involved with opening liquor stores inside the city limits.
The Finance Committee met Tuesday night and voted to place no limit on the number of liquor stores operating in McMinnville.
“I think limiting it gets us into too many pitfalls,” said Alderman Ben Newman. “Not limiting it allows everybody their fair shot. If they want to take it, take it.”
The measure must still be approved by the full McMinnville Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
The number of liquor stores is one of the details city officials are working to hammer out following November’s vote permitting the sale of package liquor.
Consideration is also being given to not requiring city residency to own a liquor store, restricting stores to commercial zones, and not issuing a license to an individual who already has a store somewhere else.
To get officials in the spirit, city attorney Tim Pirtle presented Finance Committee members with a sample ordinance from Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS).
“This proposed ordinance is taken wholly from the MTAS model,” said Pirtle. “I haven’t tweaked anything. I haven’t changed anything, other than adding the city of McMinnville. There are three things you need to consider.”
First, said Pirtle, is removing the city of McMinnville residency requirement to prevent a legal challenge.
“MTAS recommends striking that provision,” he said. “The attorney general has issued an opinion questioning the constitutionality of the residency requirement.”
Alderman Ben Newman asked if a case has been filed.
“No, it’s just the AG’s opinion, but I don’t know that we want to run the risk of getting embroiled in some constitutional contest,” said Pirtle.
Newman said, “How about a resident of Tennessee?”
“We didn’t discuss the merits of it,” said Pirtle. “We simply discussed deleting it to avoid a constitutional challenge and that’s my recommendation to you.”
Newman asked about limiting the issuance of a license to only individuals who do not already have a license.
“We can’t have one person with two liquor stores here, by this ordinance,” said Newman. “Could we say you can’t have a license anywhere else? If you have a license anywhere else, you can’t have a license here. My concern, and I don’t know if it’s a valid concern, but what if we have a superstore come in and they don’t really give local folks an opportunity to compete.”
Pirtle offered to check on the legality of that restriction.
Second, said Pirtle, is how many stores will be allowed.
“The second provision that you absolutely have to consider is the restriction of the number of certificates of compliance. You are entitled to elect, if you so choose, the number of stores that will be allowed. By striking that section, you leave the number unrestricted. In other words, the market will determine how many stores you have here. Well, the market and the state. The state issues the license.”
Alderman Everett Brock said discussions with other board members points to a desire to allow the market to decide.
“Everybody I’ve talked to, informally, on the board has said ‘Let’s let the market sort it out,’” said Brock.
Third, said Pirtle, is restricting stores to commercial zones.
“There can be no controversy about this, in my opinion,” said Pirtle. “It restricts stores to zones with retail businesses which would include only commercial zones. That also needs to be part of the ordinance.”
Newman asked about signage.
“I want to limit signage so people aren’t out there with huge liquor signs with flashing lights on them,” said Newman. “It’s one thing to have a big Bojangles sign up, but it’s another thing to have a massive liquor sign up.”
Pirtle said it would be within the city’s right to limit signage through its sign ordinances.
Aldermen Brock, Newman and Ryle Chastain unanimously approved the ordinance with the residency requirement stricken, placing no limit on the number of stores, and restricting them to commercial zones. The measure will be sent to the full board.