Danville mayor applauds revisions to state liquor law

Danville mayor applauds revisions to state liquor law

A law signed by Gov. Bruce Rauner last week alters a pre-World War II-era rule limiting alcohol sales near places like hospitals, schools and churches.

Called an "outdated statute" and "an obstacle to the growth of local economies" by critics, Illinois' Liquor Control Act of 1934 limited alcohol sales within 100 feet of a religious institution, school, hospital or military station, and required that any exemption receive General Assembly approval. Since it was enacted, only 75 businesses have received that approval.

Now, however, the amended act — which took effect as soon as it was signed Aug. 2 — gives authority over granting exemptions to local liquor commissioners, a position generally held by mayors in downstate communities.

Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer applauded the governor's move, saying he welcomes devolution of powers.

"Any time you can put more control into the hands of local government, I think that's a step in the right direction," Eisenhauer said. "What I will tell you is that our ordinance wouldn't change."

That may come as no surprise, given the history the city has had with liquor stores.

Two years ago, a request to relocate Stroud Liquors from 418 S. Gilbert St., Danville, to the former Gulick's Illiana Medical Equipment & Supply building across from Royal Donut on North Vermilion Street was halted due to its proximity to Danville High School.

That proposal also received push-back from the zoning board, local business owners and the Danville school district, so Eisenhauer doesn't see signing one of these exemptions in the near future.

"What this does do is that it does allow us to look at the definitions perhaps differently," Eisenhauer said. He explained that the rule set out in the Liquor Control Act based the 100-foot restriction from property line to property line as opposed to building to building. "I'm glad it gives us the ability, locally, to look at those definitions and decide what's best for us."

He also criticized the old legislative approval process.

"It was designed to be a cumbersome process to discourage people from utilizing it and a means to open a business within the already pre-established restricted areas," Eisenhauer said. "This eliminates that cumbersome process and, more importantly, then provides local control over local issues."

Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen also appreciated the local control, but as to whether it will affect future development in the city — or that it was a hindrance to begin with — she's skeptical.

"It's too early to tell," she said. "I've not had this ever come up. So, I suppose, it's possible that it could have been a hindrance to some local developers, and I agree more choice is good for local business, but this has not been an issue for us."

Having just recently finished a two-year-long comprehensive revamp of Champaign's liquor code, she doesn't think she'll ever have to use this exemption power, as many of the ordinances already in place set restrictions similar to that of the Liquor Control Act.

The most recent example she can think of was the Lodgic Everyday Community workspace, set to open at some point this summer, which needed a change in zoning rules to allow alcohol sales in the same building as a day care. She said it wasn't a controversial move, so if the need for an exemption comes up in the future, she's not sure it'll be controversial then either.

"You can't probably build a bar next to a school because of zoning," she said. "But I think particularly with infill development kind of close and more compact, you need more of a variety of different kinds of uses happening in an area. I think that's appropriate."