Let’s get drunk and eat chicken fingers

Maybe Minneapolis doesn't have the market cornered on being confusing

This may surprise some readers of this blog, but the emotion I most often feel about Minneapolis is not anger, it’s confusion.  How come we were broke for the last ten years but now we have hundreds of millions of dollars for a stadium?  How can residents protest their property taxes one day and then protest against a proposed building that would shoulder some of their tax burden the next day?

One of the perpetually mystifying aspects of Minneapolis is its liquor laws, which I suppose is fitting for the state that gave birth to the Prohibition.  Those laws are so confusing that even a talented blogger like Anders at Our Uptown took five posts last year to explain them; they’re worth re-reading as the legislature considers a bill exempting from those confusing laws a Northside liquor store that would like to move across the street after its building was demolished in last year’s tornado.

The story reports that “officials” say the relocation runs afoul of the arbitrary requirement that liquor stores be located within 5 contiguous acres of commercial zoning.  The current location, being contiguously zoned for commercial with its successor, would also fail that test, but apparently operated as a liquor store before the city charter was amended with this confusing provision in 1974.

Use this easy map to find a place for your very own liquor store!

The Strib article concludes with a quote from Gary Schiff, who pooh-poohs the need to ask the state to save us from ourselves.  “Why don’t we just do away with the [zoning requirement]?” he asks.  Maybe Gary Schiff has a charter wand that he can wave to make any charter provision disappear, but the rest of us have to contend with burdensome state laws on charter amendments, which get even more burdensome when you want to amend the law to make it easier to sell liquor.  In 1969 the state decided that in order for any city to remove from its charter any prohibition on liquor sales – not any liquor law, but specifically ones that “prohibit the sale of intoxicating liquor or wine in certain areas” – a referendum needs 55% of voters to approve.  Since a majority of voters rarely approve anything these days – and also because there’s no organized coalition interested in changing liquor laws – I don’t give it much of a chance.

Bermuda Triangle of booze

Instead it makes more sense to me to just expand the amount of parcels zoned for commercial.  I first became aware of the city’s byzantine liquor laws when I moved to Kingfield, which is in the midst of the Southside’s bizarre boozeless belt, where nary a liquor store can be found between Lake St and 46th.  My solution would be to increase the commercial zoning in the belt, which is traversed by fairly commercial Nicollet and Chicago Aves.  The 2008 Comp plan update actually considered making Nicollet a commercial corridor, which would have made it easy to rezone for commercial, but apparently backed down due to unsurprising neighborhood resistance.  Still, there are several nodes that would only have to be expanded slightly to make 5 acres, for example at 38th St at both aforementioned streets.  (Actually a stretch of Nicollet between 35th and 36th does meet the 5 acre requirement.)

The zoning in question

I took a look at the Penn & West Broadway node, the site of the exemption-seeking liquor store, to see how much more commercial zoning would need to be added to achieve 5 acres.  The result was – you guessed it – confusing:  the proposed site (like the original site) lies within 5.89 acres of contiguous commercial zoning!  Huh?  You can see it if you squint at the City’s undated and apparently out-of-date liquor store zoning map, this site meets the contiguous zoning provision.  In fact, they could even open an on/off sale store like you can find in your favorite trashy outstate town, since the proposed site meets the stricter requirement of 7 acres of contiguous commercial zoning of on-sale.

Line to line, the booze here is fine

So what liquor law does this site violate?  The Strib article also reports CM Don Samuels as saying “a liquor store at that location would go against city charter requirements that liquor stores keep a certain distance from churches and schools.”  Actually, it’s an ordinance prohibiting a liquor store from opening within 300′ of any school or “religious institution place of assembly” measured property line to property line (on-sale liquor, wine or beer has the same rule but measured door to door).  Using sophisticated GIS tools that Hennepin County provides free on its  new Property Info map, the liquor store development is a good 350′ from the nearest church that I’m aware of, and there doesn’t seem to be an actual school nearby (google lists a Lowell School at 23rd & Penn but that should be more than 300′ away, and has no other web presence besides the google listing – lack of website should be grounds for a school to lose its charter).

So the new location meets the contiguous commercial zoning requirement and the school/temple distance requirement, two of what I call the fucked-up trifecta of liquor laws.  That leaves the third confusing, seemingly arbitrary law, the 2000′ buffer required between stores.  But this ordinance actually makes allowances for liquor stores that also happen to be longstanding neighborhood businesses that, say, are hit by a tornado, allowing relocation despite a buffer as long as it’s not too far away.

Anyone know the real reason for this legislative exemption to a law that it appears to meet?  Is there a school hiding around there somewhere?  Anyone heard Legends of a Hidden Temple in the area?  All the confusion about the City’s liquor laws makes you want to say “Fuck it, let’s get drunk and eat chicken fingers.”  Go ahead, but good luck finding a liquor store.

The good old days

4/9/12 Update:  A new Strib article about Dean Rose’s quest for a new liquor store specifies that the new location lies within only 3.9 acres of contiguous commercial zoning.  Not sure how they’re defining contiguous, then.  Here is a list of commercially-zoned parcels that are contiguous in the sense of sharing borders on the map above labeled “The zoning in question”:

Address Acres
2220 West Broadway 0.82
2508 Queen Ave N 0.12
2229 W Broadway 0.28
2301 24th Ave N 0.1
2221 W Broadway 0.2
2209 W Broadway 0.08
2201 W Broadway 0.2
2341 Penn Ave N 0.1
2125 W Broadway 0.06
2119 W Broadway 0.17
2117 W Broadway 0.08
2101 W Broadway 1.02
2033 W Broadway 0.08
2029 W Broadway 0.13
2027 W Broadway 0.18
2028 W Broadway 0.12
2034 W Broadway 0.11
2038 W Broadway 0.12
2044 W Broadway 0.12
2046 W Broadway 0.13
2050 W Broadway 0.12
2054 W Broadway 0.13
2058 W Broadway 0.12
2064 W Broadway 0.12
2100 W Broadway 0.12
2104 W Broadway 0.38
2118 W Broadway 0.32
2126 W Broadway 0.07
2128 W Broadway 0.13
2400 Penn Ave N 0.09
2406 Penn Ave N 0.07

These parcels total 5.89 acres.

9 comments on “Let’s get drunk and eat chicken fingers

  1. Great post! Minneapolis is an odd place. It’s stuff like this that makes me want to shake my fist in the air, mumble and then think about becoming a libertarian.

  2. And then there is this: http://www.thedeets.com/2012/03/21/great-turnout-for-blue-door-pub-longfellow-beer-wine-hearing/

    Restrictions (quoted from above link):

    – No bar
    – No serving alcohol without a food order (the Anchor Fish & Chips plays by similar rules on 13th Ave NE)
    – The majority of the business’ revenue must come from food rather than alcohol.
    – No exterior alcohol signs (this is due to the close proximity of a school)

    What is with no beer with food thing? God forbid you want to get a drink after work and not order a burger. And, how is a business supposed to project into the future what percentage of revenue will come from alcohol or food? Ugh. Anyway, I’m off to bed. I can’t deal with this crap anymore.

    • Alex says:

      Thanks for the link – I didn’t know the Blue Door controversy was going on now. I think the problem is less one of political leanings and more of urbanity or lack thereof. Of course that doesn’t make the problem any more tractable, but at least it helps reconcile the feelings of leftist non-nimbys like me. And it also provides hope – Mpls is going to have to re-urbanize post-peak oil, assuming no futuristic battery technologies are invented out of thin air.

      As for the no beer without food order thing, my understanding is that it’s mostly winked at. And impossibly high food/alcohol revenue ratio is routinely violated, then they work on a plan, then it’s violated again, etc etc – basically it’s a way to keep inspectors employed.

  3. josephabernard says:

    The City’s liquor ordinances are the worst. So many negative outcomes…a comedy of errors really. I’ll throw in one more location along 38th for my own selfish reasons: near Hiawatha.

  4. josephabernard says:

    Also, I think the interpretation of the ordinance would allow counting Industrial (I1 and I2) zoning in those 5 acres – since it talks about districts in which liquor stores are allowed. So the map that shows possible areas for liquor store expansion is probably not all that accurate. Maybe.

    • Alex says:

      It seems like even Regulatory Services is confused about that – in the map I linked to they include Industrial zoning as meeting the contiguous commercial requirement, but in the map pictured it isn’t included. I don’t think the pictured map is still on the website – anyway I can’t find it, &%$*#@ new website – but I don’t think that necessarily means they’ve made a decision either way.

      And I absolutely agree that somewhere around Hiawatha & 38th should have a 5-acre commercial node, as should Bloomington or Cedar & 38th to get a nice spacing.

  5. Destin Nygard says:

    Obviously your focus here is Minneapolis, but is Minneapolis really worse than any other city in the state? Or for that matter, is it really that much worse than most other major cities?

    I believe that Minneapolis (and probably St. Paul?) are the only municipalities with an unlimited number of on-sale liquor licenses — every other city is limited based on their population size.

    I agree with your assessment of the boozeless belt, though. 38th Street could definitely host a couple of liquor stores quite nicely.

    • Alex says:

      Minneapolis doesn’t seem any more restrictive than any other city in the state – St Paul, for example, has similar buffers between stores and from churches and schools – but I would guess that Minneapolis has more complex liquor law than most due to portions of it being in the charter and others in the code of ordinances. Of course, Minneapolis isn’t the only city with a charter, and although many cities in Minnesota are less able to alter their charter, nationwide I believe most cities are able to alter their charter at least as easily as Minneapolis. But yes, Minnesota is an unusually restrictive state for liquor, and I think you’ll find that most big cities have very few locational restrictions to liquor sales (Chicago and Phoenix are two examples that come to mind). Assuming grocery store sales are a proxy for lack of restriction on location, Wikipedia’s liquor law list reports 18 states have no locational restrictions on off-sale liquor, and another 22 have no locational restrictions on off-sale beer and/or wine.

  6. Stephen Gross says:

    Maybe they’re trying to keep Mr Leahy away?

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