ROCK FALLS – Two weeks ago, the City Council put a new ordinance on the books to clarify the liquor license policy for special events on city property, but when dealing with special use procedure, changing one word created confusion.
Just days before the launch of a new event, Art in the Park, at RB&W District Park, the council on Tuesday turned back a request by Candlelight Inn to provide beer and wine for Saturday’s Sculpture Walk.
The event that had been promoted to include fine wine and craft beers for months will now be dry.
Well, it turns out that Mayor Bill Wescott, who also serves as liquor commissioner, didn’t need the council’s vote to OK the special use request from Candlelight Inn. The issue was confused with protocol for special events liquor applications.
The difference is that the special events request policy is for nonprofits that don’t already have a liquor license, such as service club fundraisers. Special use requests are for businesses such as bars and restaurants that do have a city liquor license.
“Our attorneys informed us after the meeting that for a special use license, we don’t need the council’s approval,” Wescott said. “As liquor commissioner, I make that decision because they already have liquor licenses and have been vetted.”
The city’s current special use language, however, mistakenly says the request must come from a Class A liquor license holder, which in Rock Falls is a tavern. That would have excluded the Candlelight, which as a restaurant has a Class B license.
“We’re letting this go and making modifications so restaurants are included,” Wescott said. “We’ll get everything resolved and move forward.”
The mayor plans to call a Committee of the Whole meeting to discuss the situation with the council.
The vote on the Candlelight’s request that was needlessly taken Tuesday shows a deep divide on the council over the broader issue of alcohol in the park.
Council members Violet Sobottka, Lee Folsom and Glen Kuhlemier voted yes on the Candlelight Inn’s permit request, while George Logan Jr., Daehle Reitzel and Rod Kleckler voted against it. Alderman Brian Snow recused himself from the vote because he owns business that sells alcohol in the riverfront tax increment financing district and Jim Schuneman was absent.
Mayor Bill Wescott could have broken the tie with a yes vote, but the ordinance still needed another vote to carry. The realization that the council won’t vote on future special use permits for the park could spark much debate.
“Some of us wanted a blanket policy to not have alcohol in the park instead of handling it on a case-by-case basis,” Kleckler said. “I would support allowing it in a downtown lot, but I feel it’s inappropriate to have liquor in the park.”
Logan’s concerns stem from the confusion he believes will be created because some parks are owned by the city while others are under the jurisdiction of the Coloma Township Park District.
“I have trepidation about allowing drinking in one park because I’m afraid it will make it easier to drink at all of them,” Logan said.
The mayor said that leaving the council’s vote stand is the right thing to do, but that moving forward, he has no problem with alcohol being part of some riverfront park events.
“We didn’t go to all of this trouble to clean up the area and build this park to just let it sit there,” Wescott said.
But Kleckler said many residents believe liquor isn’t needed to draw people to the riverfront.
“We have a heckuva problem if growth on the riverfront is tied to the consumption of liquor,” he said.
The Taste of Fiesta, set for Sept. 22, is the next big event coming to RB&W District Park, but there were no plans to include alcohol.
The Rock Falls City Council next meets at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 18 at City Hall, 603 W. 10th St.
The agendas will be posted at rockfalls61071.net and at City Hall. Call 815-622-1100 for more information.
The council meeting also airs live on Channel 5 in the Twin Cities.