MINNEAPOLIS - The city's charter commission is considering an amendment this summer that would modernize liquor license regulations, an adjustment that may streamline the approval process for smaller, locally owned restaurants and bars.
According to a draft published on the city's website, the commission seeks to remove some of the older language from the charter, including a line that requires establishments to be located within a seven-acre commercial zone in order to sell liquor and spirits. As it stands now, that language forces some businesses — particularly smaller ones located near neighborhoods — to seek a special law from the state legislature in a cumbersome and lengthy process.
Charter Commission Chair Barry Clegg said the passages contained in the charter date back to a different generation. In the late 19th century, the city only allowed liquor sales in downtown Minneapolis near the river, in order to allow police to walk their beats and keep an eye on alcohol intake.
"A lot of these provisions have their origins in those liquor patrol limits," Clegg said. "And I think it's time they go."
If the commission passes the charter amendment by August, it will go to the public for a vote on the November ballot.
The main goal of the amendment is to bypass the state legislature in the approval process and put the control in the hands of the city council. About 25 establishments have sought legislation from the capitol to sell liquor in recent years, according to Clegg. Those businesses include the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, as well as Tinto Kitchen, a South Minneapolis restaurant that will begin selling margaritas in early July.
Delays can occur when a business wants to apply for a special law during the summer or fall, when the legislature is not in session.
"It really just modernizes our charter, and means that an applicant doesn't have to go to the state legislature every time they want to open a bar in a four-acre commercial district," Clegg said.
Tony Chesak, the executive director of the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, said he hopes the charter commission will pass the amendment so the voters can approve it (the measure would need 55-percent approval from the public instead of a simple majority, due to another obscure statute).
"It's a bit of a hoop they have to jump through that's unnecessary," Chesak said, referring to restaurants that have to ask for a special state law. "It's having to go through several levels of government to get approved and vetted... it would make sense to remove (it), because it's being approved at the state capitol with very little resistance."