Vista Takes First Move to Control Number of Liquor Outlets

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There aren't necessarily too many liquor stores in Vista now, Mayor Gloria McClellan says, but it's never too soon for the city to have the planning tools necessary to limit them.

So, at the City Council's urging, the Planning Commission has adopted a proposed city ordinance requiring liquor store owners--and for that matter, any store that sells liquor--to apply for a special-use permit before opening new outlets in the city.

Already, convenience stores must apply for special-use permits before opening. The special-use permit allows the city to dictate whether the store can operate at a particular location, even if the general zoning for that site would otherwise allow the commercial use. The permits also allow the city to require certain conditions of the business, such as limited operating hours.

But the city has had no such control over liquor stores, except for existing state laws that restrict liquor licenses and put some limits on where they can be situated.

"Now we want some sort of direct city control as to where liquor stores are placed," McClellan said. "We don't want liquor stores on every block."

The Planning Commission took up the matter Tuesday night, and went a step further than had been requested by the City Council in considering such an ordinance.

City Council members asked the Planning Commission to review a proposed ordinance that would simply require special-use permits of stores that primarily sell liquor. But, by a 4-3 vote, the Planning Commission recommended that the ordinance apply to any and all stores that sell liquor, including full-size grocery stores.

"The staff recommended that the special-use permit requirement not apply to stores larger than 10,000 square feet that have less than 10% of their shelving dedicated to alcohol," said Planning Director Brian Smith. "But the majority of the Planning Commission said all places that sell liquor should be treated equally, regardless of the size of the store."

The proposed ordinance will now go back to the City Council--perhaps May 28--for council discussion, possible revision and a vote.

A special-use permit would require, among other things, that a public hearing be held before the liquor business be allowed to open, "and he'd have to prove to his neighbors, who would be invited to the public hearing, that he wouldn't be a problem for the neighborhood."

The city now formally objects to the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control Department's issuance of a liquor license whenever the business is proposed in an area identified by the Sheriff's Department as a "high crime" area, meaning that crime statistics for that neighborhood are 120% higher than the citywide average.

But, without the proposed city ordinance, the city could not otherwise block the opening of a liquor store as long as the business conforms to that area's commercial zoning laws.

"Requiring special permits of liquor stores would give us greater discretion as to where they can go and under what conditions they can operate," McClellan said.

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