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Surly and Summit beer makers face off this weekend.

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune photo illustration

A CASE FOR CHANGE

"Businesses shouldn't have unfair rules placed upon them because a religious place of assembly is located nearby. ... Under our current law, a veterans' group that wants to open a VFW can't do it because a church in a strip mall is close by.''

GARY SCHIFF, a Minneapolis City Council member representing the Ninth Ward

Editorial: Church-spirits rules are outdated, unfair

  • Article by: EDITORIAL
  • Star Tribune
  • November 14, 2011 - 6:02 AM

Minneapolis law calls for a separation of spirits and the spiritual -- even though the rules are out of step with contemporary realities of neighborhood businesses.

Under current city ordinances, restaurants outside downtown can serve alcohol within 300 feet of churches if 70 percent of their sales come from food and 30 percent or less from liquor -- and if the business has no bar area.

Ninth Ward Council Member Gary Schiff proposes dropping the rule that prevents most restaurants from opening near houses of worship and changing the 70/30 food-liquor ratio to 60/40. His proposal would also apply that same ratio to any establishment within a 500-foot radius of a residence.

The law is a throwback to times when Minneapolis officials wanted to restrict all liquor consumption to a few parts of town. Things have changed since then; small restaurants that serve alcohol have demonstrated that they can coexist quite peacefully in residential areas today.

Schiff proposes a sensible change that would continue to protect churches and residences from the types of drinking establishments in which bad behavior is more likely. He would modify current law to help encourage more restaurant and microbrewery startups.

Relaxing the alcohol limitations would also allow property owners to lease more of the city's vacant storefronts.

Still, the plan has critics.

During a recent public hearing before the council, several members of a northeast Minneapolis Catholic church objected to the change. Leaders and parishioners from St. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church said they didn't want to leave church on Sunday afternoon and see people coming out of bars.

Some church members are worried that an entrepreneur is considering opening a microbrewery nearby that would serve pints and sell closed growlers (small jugs) of its own brew. However, microbreweries cannot be open on Sundays.

Until this year, microbreweries were prohibited from serving beer in their breweries. That changed when the Legislature passed what was known at the "Surly bill'' because it allowed the Brooklyn Center-based Surly company to proceed with a brewery and event center where beer would be served.

City licensing officials confirm that the current alcohol limit is a barrier for those considering opening neighborhood eateries. A 10 percent change may not seem like much, but officials say the 30 percent alcohol limit is an unworkable business plan for many small restaurants.

The restriction makes it difficult for them to compete with a place that may just be a block away that operates under 60/40 model because of its distance from a church.

Proponents of the ordinance change note that it would not increase the number of "regular'' bars in residential communities. Businesses with on-site drinking would still need to be surrounded by seven acres of appropriate commercial zoning -- with some exceptions.

The full council is expected to vote on the proposal on Friday.

Passing this reasonable change would accomplish two goals: The new ordinance would still keep the rowdiest types of liquor-serving establishments a fair distance from churches, and it would make it easier for investors to open more neighborhood restaurants and microbreweries.

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