Grand Forks may change some city alcohol regulations soon

·5 min read

Jun. 10—Grand Forks is poised to reshape some of its alcohol regulations later this month.

City Council members have been weighing a series of revisions to city code that would, in a nutshell, prevent people who've been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor "crime of violence" from holding a liquor license; allow minors to work in more establishments under certain restrictions; allow some bars and restaurants to deliver alcohol alongside food orders; and expand charitable gambling to restaurants, assuming they host it in a designated "lounge" area.

Council members are set to hold a public hearing and vote definitively on those changes on Monday, June 21. On June 7, they preliminarily approved each over only a handful of formal objections: Council member Bret Weber voted against allowing alcohol delivery, and Council members Jeannie Mock and Katie Dachtler voted against allowing gaming in restaurants.

Here's a rundown of each set of changes:

Gaming

Currently, about 29 businesses in Grand Forks are allowed to host charitable gambling, the proceeds from which go to charities such as the Grafton Curling Club, The Arc and Northern Prairie Performing Arts. The proposal City Council members will consider later this month would expand that allowance to establishments with a "Class 4" license, which means restaurants that have approximately a 60/40 food/alcohol split.

The proposal enjoys support from some Grand Forks-area nonprofits, the Grand Forks Youth Hockey Association foremost among them. Brad Lucke, the association's president, said it would be an opportunity for more fundraising.

Mock, who voted against the change on Monday, said she was torn over it but ultimately voted "no" because she was disappointed the city did not put together a task force to brainstorm revisions to municipal alcohol regulations. Dachtler also objected on similar grounds.

Council members in February asked city staff to set up a committee that would look at alcohol restrictions placed on bars, restaurants, and so on, but that never happened. City Administrator Todd Feland said a Committee of the Whole meeting on May 24 was that brainstorming session. The Committee of the Whole is a subsidiary body of the Council proper that's comprised entirely of council members. At its meetings, they give preliminary consideration to city business before forwarding it on to a real-deal Council meeting for formal, and often final, consideration.

Dachtler also said she wasn't convinced that enough nonprofits would benefit from the expansion to make a financial difference for them, and that slim, in her estimation, benefit, could be outweighed by further exposing kids to alcohol and gambling.

Delivery

Former Mayor Mike Brown flexed his emergency powers at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and declared that bars and restaurants could sell alcohol alongside carryout and delivery orders, but that exception is set to expire if — or when — the citywide state of emergency does at the end of June. If Council members vote to keep that change in place, it would mean bars, restaurants, taprooms, and distilleries could deliver a six pack of beer, a bottle of wine, up to 32 ounces of a cocktail, or 375 milliliters of hard alcohol alongside food made in the establishment's kitchen, among other stipulations.

Weber and other council members said they supported alcohol delivery during the pandemic, but weren't sure the exception should stick around afterward. Council President Dana Sande had a similar position, but has since softened it after speaking to an unnamed but "prominent" liquor store owner, whose business wouldn't be allowed to deliver booze, and others.

"They're all in agreement that this is really no harm, no foul," Sande said Monday. "They were on board."

Minors, etc.

The two provisions that Council members approved unanimously would allow people younger than 21 to be in a business with a liquor license if they're accompanied by a parent or guardian, aren't within three feet of the bar, and do not stay after 10 p.m.

Beyond that, the proposed changes would allow people 18-21 to work for certain types of bars or restaurants if they do not serve alcohol themselves and if at least one-third of the business' gross income comes from food sales. People ages 16 and 17 could also work there until 10 p.m., but would be required to work in a kitchen or other back area.

At Council member Danny Weigel's suggestion, the slate of changes would also bar the city from issuing a liquor license to someone who has been convicted of a "crime of violence," which includes domestic violence or a crime against a juvenile, in the past five years. Currently, city code bars people who've been convicted of a felony from holding a license, but Weigel worried about serious-seeming charges that get pleaded down from felonies to misdemeanors.

And the number of types of liquor licenses the city will issue is set to go down by one. The set of code amendments would repeal liquor licenses for "excursion boats" on the Red River and "mini" bar licenses, neither of which have been used for years. It would add a license for a "manufacturing distillery" that would allow staff there to dispense free samples of spirits, but, at Grand Forks Public Health Director Debbie Swanson's request, those samples couldn't legally be larger than 1 ounce apiece and a single patron couldn't be served more than three in a day.

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