Blaine won’t change liquor licenses

Staff Writer
I cover the cities of Andover, Blaine and Ramsey. I have worked at ABC Newspapers since August 2007.

The city of Blaine won’t be changing its rules for liquor store licensing any time soon.

At its Sept. 21 workshop, the Blaine City Council decided that it would not be willing to allow Fastrip Mart to include a liquor store in its remodeling concept. But there was interest in re-opening the discussion if a large retailer like Hy-Vee or Total Wine came in with an application.

“If we get a high-end grocery store and they require liquor, I’m not going to tell them no,” Council Member Dave Clark said.

The council had discussed Fastrip’s proposal on Sept. 7 and said it would be willing to take another look.

But at this follow-up meeting, the council said it would not be willing to change its off-sale liquor ordinance at this time.

Blaine currently allows one off-sale liquor license for every 7,000 residents. There’s been one available license since Blaine’s population as projected by the Metropolitan Council exceeded 63,000 in June 2016 but Fastrip Mart was the first applicant to come forward.

One hurdle Fastrip had to overcome was the fact that the nearest off-sale liquor store was 0.9 miles away. The current city ordinance requires a buffer of at least 1 mile between stores.

City Clerk Cathy Sorensen said the 1-mile radius rule has been in place since 1986.

Standards vary for nearby cities, according to information Sorensen compiled for the council.

“These (ordinances) are regulated by cities and not by (state) statute, so you can do whatever you want,” Sorensen told the council.

Andover allows one store per 6,000 residents. It has three available off-sale licenses.

Ramsey’s population is 26,000. The city only allows three licenses, but has no distance restrictions.

Ham Lake has four licenses for its 15,891 residents and has population restrictions.

Lino Lakes has no population or distance rules. There’s eight liquor stores for 20,000 residents.

Anoka, Fridley and Spring Lake Park have municipal liquor stores, but Spring Lake Park is selling its store to Hy-Vee, which is a business Blaine has actively tried to recruit.

Coon Rapids in August amended its off-sale liquor license ordinance on a 4-2 council vote. Coon Rapids has two sets of rules for different stores. Class A licenses are for stand-alone liquors stores. There’s a 1-mile radius rule and no more than eight Class A licenses are allowed. These stores must be at least 2,500 square feet. But there are no longer restrictions on the number of Class B licenses and they could be across the street from each other. The minimum size requirement was also cut in half from 50,000 to 25,000 square feet.

Northeast Blaine would be the area where a new off-sale liquor license could easily go without being within one mile of a competitor, according to a map city staff put together that showed existing stores and one-mile radius circles.

But reducing the distance restriction to half-a-mile would open up more properties. Council Member Dick Swanson said he was be open to reducing the distance radius but he wants to keep a tight lid on the number of licenses that would be allowed.

“I don’t want to see a lot of them on top of each other,” he said.

Council Member Jason King said he was not supportive of making any changes to the ordinance at this time.

Clark wants the MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce and existing businesses to have time to give input before the council would consider any changes.

“Whatever we do we need to involve the current license holders and the Chamber,” he said.

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