Danville aldermen leave Meijer high, dry, then reverse themselves

DANVILLE — Aldermen initially voted down several changes to the city's liquor ordinance Tuesday night that would have made a liquor license available to the new Meijer store.

Later on in the evening, they changed their minds.

Under the city's existing liquor ordinance, package liquor stores, groceries and drug stores that sell alcohol are in the same category, P, and there are no available P licenses.

Under the proposal presented by city administrators, package liquor stores would stay in the P category, and a new PG category would be created for groceries and drug stores. And the number of licenses in the PG category would be 12, six more than currently exist for groceries and drug stores.

Owners of local package liquor stores didn't want the PG category to have so many licenses available and expressed their concerns at the beginning of the meeting, along with a few other residents who said they didn't want to see more liquor licenses at all.

When it came to a vote, the proposal needed seven votes to pass but received only six, with four aldermen voting "no," and four other aldermen absent (Sharon McMahon, Rickey Williams Jr., Lois Cooper and Bill Black).

At the end of the meeting — after the council emerged from a closed session and most of the public had left, including those who spoke against the liquor proposal — Alderman Mike Puhr, Ward 5, asked how the council could reconsider the liquor ordinance proposal.

By then, only eight aldermen were still in attendance, because two had left: Aldermen Rick Strebing, Ward 2, and Kevin Davis, Ward 1, who had voted against the liquor changes.

Corporation Counsel David Wesner told aldermen the proposal could be reconsidered if an alderman who had voted against the proposal made a motion to reconsider.

Alderman Jon Cooper, Ward 6, who had voted against the liquor changes, made the motion.

Earlier in the meeting, Cooper had wanted to make some changes to the original proposal but didn't get enough support from other aldermen, so he voted against the proposal. But after realizing the possible effect on Meijer, Cooper said he wanted to reconsider.

The remaining eight aldermen then voted 8-0 to reconsider the liquor-ordinance changes out of concern that Meijer officials might abandon their plans to build a 190,000-square-foot store, which would have a pharmacy and full grocery, including alcohol for sale.

The eight aldermen then voted 7-1 in favor of the liquor-ordinance changes.

Aldermen Steve Foster, Ward 7, cast the "no" vote.

He voted against the changes the first time, too, and said he did so because he was worried about "proliferation" of liquor sales. Before the vote to reconsider, Foster said, no one "wants to run off Meijer," but he was still going to vote "no." Foster argued against reconsidering at the end of Tuesday's meeting and asked that the issue be brought back for another vote at another council meeting, giving city officials time to modify the proposal.

But Cooper said he didn't want to take the risk of leaving the city with no available liquor license for Meijer.

"We need the jobs, and I don't care what it takes," he said.

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