After a year’s study, the Madison City Council on Tuesday approved a new approach to alcohol licenses designed to confront chronic problems around part of State Street, deliver flexibility Downtown and give more of a voice and predictability to neighborhoods.
The council voted unanimously to replace a controversial Downtown Alcohol License Density Ordinance with a process that creates precise definitions for taverns, restaurants, nightclubs, theaters and hybrid establishments and uses the zoning code and Plan Commission to help regulate them.
Downtown Madison Inc. President Susan Schmitz called the new ordinance a balance between “safety, business vitality and quality of life Downtown.”
But Sandi Torkildson, owner of a Room of One’s Own bookstore, said the city must continue to find ways to discourage concentrations of alcohol licenses and support a mix of retail.
Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, said the new ordinance grandfathers existing establishments and makes new nightclubs a conditional use across the city, and that maintaining a retail mix remains “a huge issue.”
Also Tuesday, the council approved a beer and wine license for Madison Festivals Inc. for the Rhythm & Booms Independence Day celebration on June 28. Organizers, who are moving the event from Warner Park to John Nolen Drive with fireworks shot from barges over Lake Monona, anticipate ordering 500 half-barrels for an estimated 150,000 people who will gather on the thoroughfare.
The new alcohol license ordinance creates a special zoning area for the 500 and 600 blocks of State Street, the north side of the 600 block of University Avenue, the 400 blocks of North Frances and West Gilman streets and west side of the 10 block of North Broom Street where there are many licenses and alcohol-related problems. No new taverns or new retail alcohol sales will be allowed in that area, but brew pubs, nightclubs and restaurant-nightclubs can be permitted as conditional uses.
Elsewhere in the city, the law would respect uses under the city’s new zoning code but trigger Plan Commission review for new conditional uses.
The new law also has specific provisions for resale and transfers of taverns and liquor stores and other uses inside and outside the special area.
The Alcohol License Review Committee will still consider all license applications.
The current ordinance, passed in 2007 and set to expire July 1, banned new taverns – establishments then defined as making more than 50 percent of their revenue from alcohol sales – on the Isthmus between Blair and Park streets.