STERLING – Whiteside County has declined to renew the liquor license of a longtime tavern until it brings its new building up to state code.
County officials assumed that meant the beer would stop flowing at K’s Korners, 13030 Galt Road, and it did for a short time.
But owners Andy and Marion Younger, whose license expired June 30, have appealed the county’s denial to the Illinois Liquor Control Commission. That has triggered an automatic stay of the county’s action until a hearing can be held in the fall, Sue Hofer, a spokeswoman for the state, said Monday.
So the bar can legally remain open.
That is, unless the county shuts it down for other reasons, Hofer said.
“We’re open by order of the Illinois liquor commission; they said they accepted our appeal,” Marion Younger said Friday. She directed further questions to her attorney, Jim Mertes.
Mertes said Monday that his clients’ position is that the county is using the Youngers’ liquor license to force them to adhere to an ordinance that pertains to newly constructed commercial structures.
There is no allegation that the Youngers have ever violated the county’s liquor law, Mertes said.
“All this stems from the county using their liquor license in a dispute over the wording of an ordinance governing newly constructed commercial structures, which we believe would not pertain to this older barn,” he said.
That does appear to be the crux of the matter.
Whiteside County, as do all government units that do not have their own zoning codes, must follow certain state rules. As of July 11, 2011, all builders of new commercial structures must obtain an occupancy permit, which is issued after a building is built, inspected and found to comply with code.
K’s, in existence since well before 2011, does not have an occupancy permit. If the barn is determined to be a new structure, it will need one. If not, it won’t.
The Youngers recently bought and moved the historic 39-foot-tall barn, which the former Wahl Equestrian Center had used as its retail shop, to their site at U.S. Route 30 and Galt Road.
They plan to use the first floor of the two-story barn for the bar area, and the upper story, to be dubbed The Loft, as a rental venue for wedding receptions, family reunions, birthday parties and the like.
It still must be hooked into the city sewer system and meet other code requirements. The Youngers have obtained a building permit and hired a building inspector who has told them what needs to be done. That inspector will look over the structure and submit a report to the county when the work is finished.
If all is kosher, the county then, presumably, will issue an occupancy permit and renew the Youngers’ liquor license.
But for now, the Youngers aren’t using the barn.
Marv Younger, who owned the bar for nearly 30 years, from 1972 until he sold it to his son in 2003, lives on site. The long part of the old L-shaped building was demolished to make a spot for the barn. The short side that remains is Marv’s home. It consists primarily of a living room, kitchen and bathroom.
The Youngers have installed a small bar in the kitchen, with about four bar stools, and have moved the video gambling machines there. They’re selling canned beer and pop and packaged snacks.
Gene Johnston, the county’s director of environmental health, says the bar still must meet certain sanitation and other health standards. He said Monday that he is waiting to hear from county officials to see how they want to proceed.
Friday, when told the bar was still open, County Board Chairman Jim Duffy said he would look into the matter and decide what action, if any, to take.
He was not asked about, and did not appear then to be aware of, the state stay, which this newspaper was not able to confirm until Monday morning.
Duffy could not be reached Monday for comment, and county Administrator Joel Horn declined to comment on the situation.
What the law says
According to the suspension and revocation portion of the county liquor code:
"The local Liquor Control Commissioner may revoke or suspend a license issued by the Liquor Control Commissioner if that Commissioner determines that the licensee has violated any of the provisions of the Liquor Control Act or any valid ordinance or resolution enacted by the County Board or any applicable rule or regulation established by the local Liquor Control Commissioner or the State Commission which is not inconsistent with the law."
According to the new commercial structures ordinance:
To occupy a newly constructed structure in unincorporated Whiteside County, the owner must have an occupancy permit issued by the planning and zoning office. To obtain the permit, the owner must present a certificate of inspection signed by a qualified inspector.
"This requirement will not apply to structures begun prior to July 1, 2011, the remodeling of an existing commercial structure or conversion of a structure, existing before July 1, 2011, to a commercial use."
Source: Whiteside County's website, www.whiteside.org