CITY HALL — An ordinance that could allow liquor to be sold within 100 feet of places of worship, schools and hospitals as well as homes for the aged, indigent and veterans advanced Thursday despite concerns the new rules could complicate efforts by aldermen to block unwanted bars and liquor stores.
As proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the measure would give the city’s Liquor Commission the authority to decide whether to issue liquor licenses near sensitive uses — rather than forcing applicants to ask the General Assembly and governor to sign a new law waiving the restrictions, first imposed during the Prohibition Era.
Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th) cast the only dissenting vote at Thursday’s meeting of the License and Consumer Protection Committee, saying he was not comfortable giving Local Liquor Control Commissioner Shannon Trotter the final decision on licenses near churches and other sensitive uses.
“I’m not comfortable taking control from elected officials and giving it to an appointed official,” O’Shea said.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he would vote no when the measure comes before the full City Council, noting that Trotter has overruled his decisions on liquor licenses.
“We have to guard against the lowest common denominators,” said Reilly, who has been working to shut down Bottled Blonde in River North for several years after hundreds of complaints.
The current law and system is “antiquated,” Reilly said, “but it does serve as a potential veto for aldermen, as long as you have a good relationship with your state representatives.”
Trotter said she would give “great deference” to the opinion of the aldermen, but noted that the proposed ordinance lays out the specific criteria for rejecting — or approving — a measure. Trotter already has the authority to waive the ban on booze sales within 100 feet of libraries.
If a waiver is granted, city officials could impose additional restrictions on the bar or store because of its proximity to a church, school or hospital, Trotter said.
State law changed last year to allow local liquor commissioners to grant a waiver to the rules blocking liquor sales near churches and other sensitive uses.
The proposal is backed by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Hospitality Business Association.
Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia told aldermen the rule change would “save time and money for all involved,” while Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Maureen Martino said it would help fill empty storefronts.
Ald. John Arena (45th) said efforts to fill a vacant storefront on Milwaukee Avenue in Jefferson Park have foundered because it is 99 feet away from a church — and the requirement to pass a state law waiving the restriction is too onerous.
“This has really put a chill on efforts to open businesses in the 45th Ward,” Arena said.
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), who owns Ann Sather Restaurant, said it was “very intimidating” to go through the process to get a liquor license.
“It will be impossible for an entrepreneur if you tell them they need to go to Springfield, pass a law and get the governor to sign it,” Tunney said. “The governor has bigger issues to worry about.”
Attendance: Chairwoman Emma Mitts (37th); Roderick Sawyer (6th); Greg Mitchell (7th); Michelle Harris (8th); David Moore (17th); Matt O’Shea (19th); Michael Scott (24th); Chris Taliaferro (29th); Scott Waguespack (32nd); Michele Smith (43rd); Tom Tunney (44th); John Arena (45th); James Cappleman (46th); Debra Silverstein (50th).