All or nothing
Upper Arlington council to keep liquor initiative on November ballot
Upper Arlington will stay the course with a Nov. 6 ballot issue to determine whether new businesses in the city’s Community Entertainment District may obtain liquor licenses – and whether those already with the licenses may keep them.
It’s a roll of the dice, but Upper Arlington City Council members on Sept. 4 said they’re not gambling with the livelihoods of 11 existing businesses in the Lane Avenue CED.
During a special meeting, no council members moved to withdraw a Nov. 6 liquor issue, which, if passed, would permit alcohol sales throughout the entirety of the 39-acre CED.
In doing so, most members said they’re confident the measure would pass, even though they couldn’t promise the 11 business owners in the CED that already are permitted to sell alcohol that they wouldn’t lose their liquor licenses if the issue fails.
“We have an investment in that, and that’s something I think we need to make sure is maintained,” council member Deborah Johnson said. “Everyone I talked to, once they understand it, has been very, very supportive (of the liquor issue).”
Council called the special meeting after the Ohio Attorney General’s Office recently told the city that failure of the Nov. 6 liquor issue would result in the entire CED, including businesses that currently serve alcohol, becoming dry.
Subsequently, the Franklin County Board of Elections gave the city a Wednesday, Sept. 5, deadline to determine if the issue would remain on the ballot.
Currently, liquor permits are allowed in portions of the CED, and those permits are held by various businesses, including the Wine Bistro, Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern, La Chatelaine French Bakery and Bistro and Whole Foods Market.
Other areas of the district, however, are dry, including a 26,000-square-foot space on the former site of Lane Avenue Baptist Church, which has been earmarked for redevelopment that is supposed to include restaurants with bars.
During the special meeting, two current CED shareholders expressed concerns about moving forward with the issue.
Stan Wielezynski, owner of La Chatelaine French Bakery and Bistro, which operates at 1550 W. Lane Ave. and currently sells wine and other alcohol, said he and other proprietors in the CED support making the entire district wet but not at the risk of putting existing license holders in jeopardy.
“I’m 65 years old, and I’ve voted in probably 40 elections,” Wielezynski said. “I’ve never been able to say, ‘This vote is going to go this way, or this vote is going to go that way.’ We don’t know. . .
“If the new tenants in the new buildings want to come in and want to do a liquor license, they can do their own work. If now you decide to put it on the ballot and (voters) say yes, everything is going to be great. If they say no, what is going to happen? I think we should not put it on the ballot.”
Fred Zawtello, executive vice president of Ramco-Gershenson, which owns and manages the Shoppes on Lane Avenue, said five businesses in the Shoppes hold liquor licenses and have “severe concerns” about the issue remaining on the ballot.
“The liquor license is very critical to them,” Zawtello said. “If we put these businesses out of business, I think we’ll also see the Shoppes on Lane severely hurt. I would hope there is some other way to get this area their licenses, rather than putting (existing license holders) in jeopardy.”
Although they remained confident that the liquor issue would pass, city officials said they’ve received indications from the Ohio Division of Liquor Control that options exist should the measure fail. Current license holders could seek a “stay” of the vote for one year.
That, Upper Arlington assistant city attorney Tom Lindsey said, would allow those businesses to seek approvals for their respective, individual licenses by voters next November.
Lindsey said the city also could dissolve the CED, seek a new state law to address the Lane Avenue district issue or take the matter to court, but none of those objectives would be easy.
“We have options, but unfortunately, without prior court activity, we don’t have certainty with the law,” Lindsey said. “We just can’t provide you an absolute guarantee.”
In the end, council chose to keep the issue on the ballot. In addition to predicting the issue would pass, members said the city has invested in CED infrastructure and parking upgrades.
That investment includes previous city projections that Lane Avenue Redevelopment LLC’s planned development of the former church site could generate more than $711,000 in new, annual property taxes, as well as tax-increment-financing deals with the developer to help fund roadway and other infrastructure projects with private-sector money in lieu of tax payments.
“The one thing I think everyone agrees on is, this development in the Lane Avenue corridor is vital to the city,” council president Frank Ciotola said. “The discussion has been that we’ve got to make this whole corridor successful, and we’ve got to make this whole CED successful.”