Posted 9/12/12 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
The City of Watford City is looking at changing two of its ordinances that govern the location of off-sale liquor establishments, as well as the number of off-sale licenses it will make available in the community.
While the first reading of the ordinance that would set new limits as to where any new off-sale liquor and beer businesses could be located within the city limits sailed through the council, the same could not be said of a second ordinance change that would increase the number of off-sale licenses that the city could issue.
Currently, the Watford City ordinances provide that only one off-sale liquor and beer license can be issued within the city limits for every 3,000 residents of the city based on the last available census.
However, under the provisions of the new city ordinance, the city is looking at being able to issue one license per 350 people with no limit on the number of off-sale liquor and beer licenses that it could issue.
While some members of the council indicated that they weren’t interested in issuing an unlimited number of off-sale liquor licenses, there are three to four requests for licenses pending before the council.
And if the council doesn’t change the ordinance, it is bound by the current one license restriction.
But any language to the city’s off-sale liquor license ordinance has the Watford City Community Benefit Association (WCCBA), which operates the Long X Bottle Shop, very concerned. Not only concerned about what more licenses could do to its profitability, but more importantly, what a loss in profitability could mean to that group’s donations to community projects.
“At the present, we have one designated liquor store, which is owned and operated by the WCCBA,” stated Ross Sundeen, a WCCBA board member.
According to Sundeen, the WCCBA was formed more than 50 years ago when it bought all of the then-existing off-sale liquor licenses in the community.
“The goal of the WCCBA at that time was to use the profits from its sales of liquor to build a better, stronger community,” stated Sundeen. “And during the past 50 years, the WCCBA has set in motion a tradition of giving that exceeds the imagination and expectations of most.”
Over the years, through good and bad economic times, the community liquor store, according to Sundeen, has been able to donate nearly $750,000 to community projects.
“We started to help build the hospital in the 1950s, then we moved on to help build the nursing home,” stated Sundeen. “There is no business or enterprise that can lay claim to donating all of their profits to the community as the WCCBA has.”
And now, Sundeen calls the council’s proposed changes to the number of liquor licenses it can issue, “nothing short of a full frontal assault.”
While many council members agreed that the WCCBA has been good to the community, they questioned what options they had short of not allowing any more licenses.
“You could allow the WCCBA’s license to be used at other sites,” stated Sundeen. “We’d love to be able to go elsewhere or to partner with other businesses.”
But according to Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford, that in essence would be granting the WCCBA a monopoly.
“I wouldn’t characterize it as such,” stated Sundeen. “But it could be looked at like that.”
On the other hand, according to Sundeen, if the city council adopts an ordinance that would allow for one off-sale license to be issued for every 350 people, it would be the death knell for the WCCBA.
“100 percent of our profits go to the community,” reminded Sundeen. “It’s something we need to look at protecting.”
And according to Sanford, the relationship between the city and the WCCBA has worked.
“This is a relationship that is unique to Watford City,” stated Sanford. “It has worked well for 50 years.”
The amendment to the ordinance, which would increase the number of off-sale licenses, passed 1-0 with the majority of the city council abstaining from voting.
But Sundeen urged the council to keep the doors open for the WCCBA.
“At the end of the day, you have to make the best decision for your community. Give the WCCBA the vehicle to meet the growth,” stated Sundeen. “If you’re not in a hurry, take a step back and work with a committee that will meet the needs of the community and the WCCBA.”