Bismarck offers Class A through S liquor licenses. Fearing it will run out of alphabet letters from which to choose, the city commission authorized staff to draft an ordinance that would condense the licenses into six or so classes.
“Every time we add a new letter to the alphabet, we carve out another teeny, tiny niche … it’s now to the point where it’s really quite unmanageable and really kind of silly,” said Commissioner Nancy Guy.
There are five classes with no license holders, according to Commissioner Shawn Oban, and six classes with only one license holder.
“That seems like we made a license for individual circumstances, which is never the way that you want to create policy,” he said. “That needs to be fixed.”
On Tuesday, the commission also authorized staff to look for a way to offer liquor licenses to assisted living facilities.
City staff members have met with liquor license holders on numerous occasions to discuss potential changes to the ordinance. In December, they met with Class D, which is full liquor, and Class E, which is beer only, license holders. In January, a meeting was held with all other license holders. On Friday, staff met with representatives from three local assisted living facilities.
The existing ordinance for Class D licenses states: “The total number of Class D licenses issued in any year may not exceed 24, plus one additional license for each 2,500 people in excess of 60,000 people, as shown by the most recent official census.”
For Class E, it states: “The total number of Class E licenses issued in any year may not exceed 16 plus one additional license for each 2,500 people in excess of 60,000 people, as shown by the most recent official census.”
At their meeting, Class D and E license holders voiced concerns about the city potentially allowing additional or unlimited licenses.
“We (Class D and E license holders) have all made this investment on the assumption that ‘OK, we have this many people to compete with, over this much time and we’re willing to invest this much money to do it,’” said Mark Fetch, of Polar Package Place and Lucky’s Bar, at Tuesday night’s commission meeting.
“There is a census coming up so there’s an avenue for more liquor licenses to come out … I don’t know if we’ll follow what we did last time, but it’s a bidding process,” he added.
The Class D and E license holders also made it known that they want more enforcement and less freedom for the other liquor license holders.
At the meeting of non-Class D and E license holders, many addressed concerns about being limited as to what they can do and spoke in favor of an open market.
“You can’t expand in Bismarck, North Dakota, because there’s nothing available unless you throw food on it,” said Walrus restaurant manager Shawn Sanford, at Tuesday’s meeting.
Guy said the link between population and the number of licenses allowed is not part of state law.
“We (the city) are free to structure that however we would like,” she said.
Several commissioners said they don’t want to adversely affect the current value of the existing Class D and E licenses.
“I think we need to make sure that we protect our Ds and Es, but I also think that we don’t need to necessarily go by the census … to allow others to possibly come into the city,” Commissioner Steve Marquardt said.
“I would be incredibly uncomfortable with doing anything that puts the values of those Ds and Es in jeopardy,” said Oban.
City Attorney Jannelle Combs said there are ways to protect the values of the current legacy holder licenses, which she will keep in mind when drafting the ordinance, to be presented to the commission at a future meeting.