Code change for alcohol sales near worship facilities up for first read Aug. 18

During their Aug. 18 meeting, City Commissioners will consider a change to city code regarding the distance requirements between casinos and worship facilities.

The commission is scheduled to review the proposed change on first read and set a public hearing for Sept. 15.

State law requires a 600 foot distance from a worship facility for the on-premise sale of alcohol.

Downtown church, ordinance change for alcohol sales get initial approval

The requirement has been in place for years, but became a conflict point when a church submitted a conditional use permit to use a vacant space at 427 Central Ave., on the corner of Central and 5th Street across from Last Street Bistro.

The downtown business community voiced concern about the proposed church since it could limit future growth in the downtown area and potentially restrict existing businesses from expanding since the state won’t issue a liquor license to a new business, or what that alters it’s operations in certain ways, within 600 feet of a worship facility.

Downtown church permit, alcohol code change considered at city planning board

In an effort to remove that conflict, city staff researched how other communities had addressed the issue and determined that state law allowed the city to create districts where the 600 foot rule doesn’t apply, which is what staff is proposing now.

The change would not impact distance requirements around schools.

City staff considering ordinance to allow sale of alcohol within 600 feet of churches

City staff modeled their language after Kalispell’s, which was adopted in 2008, according to Erin Borland, city planner.

As proposed, the ordinance would only address alcohol sales, but during the July 28 planning board meeting some members of the downtown business community asked staff to consider including gambling licenses within the code change as well.

Gaming licenses are associated with liquor licenses, but accessory gaming, which can contain up to 400-square-feet of building space to be used for gaming machines, is already permitted in certain zoning districts without distance requirements.

Proposed church downtown could conflict with development, liquor licenses

“Historically, pursuant to Title 17 of the OCCGF Chapter 20 Land Use, distance requirements between worship facilities, and other areas, and Type I and Type II Casinos were deliberately added into the zoning code during the community’s 2005 code update process in response to the number of new casinos in the community,” according to the city staff report.

The planning board voted in July to have staff prepare a code change proposal that would eliminate the current 600 foot spacing requirement between both Type I and Type II Casinos and worship facilities; however the distance requirements for other uses, such as residential, park, playground, education facilities and other casinos remain.

“As the Commission considers both Ordinance 3221 and Alternative Ordinance 3221, staff notes that the issue of the distance requirements between casinos and worship facilities was discussed at the staff level prior to the Planning Board meeting on July 28. At the time, staff chose not to bring forward a larger amendment because: 1) it was not directly related to conflict staff was trying to resolve, and 2) the requirements restricting casino location were adopted with significant community support in 2005,” according to the staff report.