Liquor license issue will stay on November ballot
Upper Arlington will stay the course and move forward with a Nov. 6 ballot issue that will determine if new businesses in the city's community entertainment district (CED) can obtain liquor licenses.
The vote will also determine if businesses that already have liquor licenses can keep them.
It's a roll of the dice, but Upper Arlington City Council members said on Sept. 4 they're not gambling with the livelihoods of 11 current businesses in the Lane Avenue CED.
During a special meeting, no council members moved to withdraw a Nov. 6 liquor issue from the ballot. If passed, it will permit alcohol sales throughout the entire 39-acre CED.
Most council members said they're confident the measure will pass, even though they can't promise those 11 business owners that they won'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," Councilwoman Deborah Johnson said. "Everyone I talked to, once they understand it, has been very, very supportive."
Council called the special meeting after the Ohio Attorney General's Office 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 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 presently are held by various businesses, including the Wine Bistro, Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern, La Chatelaine French Bakery and Bistro, as well as Whole Foods Market.
However, other areas of the district 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 owns La Chatelaine French Bakery and Bistro at 1550 W. Lane Ave., which currently sells wine and other alcohol. He said he and other proprietors in the CED support making the entire district "wet," but not at the risk of putting current 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," he added. "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 on Lane 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 are confident the liquor issue will 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.
Upper Arlington Assistant City Attorney Tom Lindsey said that would allow those businesses to seek approvals for their 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 are cinches.
"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 will pass, they 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 dollars 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."