Woulf: "What happens when you're not operating as a restaurant?"
"What is ALDO?" Mark Woulf, Madison's food and alcohol policy coordinator, asks members of the Madison Plan Commission at a meeting Monday night. "It's our Alcohol License Density Ordinance, which was adopted back in October 2007."
Woulf's appearance before the Plan Commission was in preparation for the Common Council's upcoming review of the density ordinance. He will also speak to members of the Common Council Tuesday night.
Woulf says the ordinance was originally passed to help stem alcohol-related problems downtown; the measure limits the number of taverns downtown by requiring that new liquor licenses be issued only to businesses that generate less than 50% of revenue from alcohol sales.
In 2011, the city modified the ordinance to allow "entertainment venues" that sell alcohol incidental to their primary business to generate up to 70% of their gross annual revenue from alcohol. The ordinance will expire August 1 unless it is renewed.
Since the ordinance went into effect, the number of requests downtown (PDF) for law enforcement, known as "calls for service," have decreased. In 2007, law enforcement received 3,141 calls. In 2012, they received 2,706 calls.
Woulf says the 2007 Downtown Safety Initiative may also account in part for this decrease in crime: "It was a $100,000 set aside for a central district police force to focus their efforts on alcohol-related crime and enforcement in licensed establishments. That certainly had an effect over time."
The alcohol density ordinance was also designed to help businesses other than bars flourish downtown. But, acknowledged Woulf, the number of businesses that sell food and alcohol downtown has actually increased 4% between March 2009 and March 2013.
Woulf noted, however, that a decline in retail establishments may also be due to the economic downturn in recent years as well as an increase in online commerce.
Woulf says that key issues facing the ordinance are how establishments are defined and how they are regulated as a result.
"We have one definition which is that if you're over 50% alcohol [sales], you're a bar. You're under it, you're a restaurant," he says. "We've had trouble looking at an [alcohol license] application on its merits and saying, .Great. You're coming to us as a restaurant. We're taking you for your word ... What happens when you're not operating as a restaurant?. ... How do we negotiate it?"
The city's Alcohol License Review Committee is expected to issue its recommendations for revising the ordinance by June. These will be reviewed by city committees and eventually voted on by the Common Council.