Councilwoman Leirion Gaylor Baird had hoped city planners could find a solution that would allow Open Harvest to get a liquor license without opening the door to an explosion of liquor licenses in shopping centers in Lincoln's older neighborhoods.
But they could find no magic bullet. And the City Council on Monday denied an exemption that would allow the small grocery store, at 1618 South St., to sell alcohol.
"I regret we were unable to form a new policy that didn't open a host of other concerns," Gaylor Baird said. "What sounds at first like it could be simple is not simple."
Open Harvest staff and board members told council members the grocery needs to be able to sell liquor in order to remain competitive.
But neighborhood groups across the city argued the city’s strict zoning code — which prohibits new off-sale liquor licenses on property that is less than 100 feet from a home, church, school, park or day care — ended the earlier proliferation of liquor outlets in the city's older neighborhoods.
Neighborhood defenders, though they like Open Harvest and would like to see more groceries in older neighborhoods, worried that creating an exemption for grocery stores would lead to more exemptions, either by a future council or the courts, and more liquor outlets in older neighborhoods.
And not every business that sells liquor off-sale is a good neighbor. Some places that sell alcohol can create problems with late hours, late-night lights and drunken behavior spilling over into residential areas, opponents said.
Councilman Carl Eskridge said he was disappointed, because finding a way for Open Harvest to get a liquor license "just seemed like something we could or should have been able to do."
"It's the old story of unintended consequences," he said. The options that would let Open Harvest have a license created holes in the net that could have let other people in, he said.
Councilwoman Cyndi Lamm said most neighborhood associations in her north Lincoln district asked her to vote against the exemption for grocery stores.