Should businesses that sell off-sale liquor in smaller neighborhood shopping centers have the same rules as those in larger districts when it comes to how far they have to be from homes and public spaces?
That's a question the Lincoln City Council has to consider.
Walgreens at 48th and O streets can't sell liquor because it is only 65 feet from a neighboring residential property. The law in its zoning district requires it to be 100 feet away.
Lincoln attorney Mark Hunzeker said that if that 100-foot distance is important "it should apply to all zoning districts which permit such sales."
But it doesn't. In the downtown area, there are no distance requirements. In larger shopping centers the distance requirement is less than 100 feet. In some areas, restaurants that serve alcohol are allowed to be as close as 25 feet to homes, schools, parks and other public spaces.
So Walgreens is proposing that the city change its zoning code to drop the requirement to 50 feet.
The city adopted the 100-foot rule in 2004. Before that it had a waiver system, but the City Council got tired of essentially deciding each liquor license case by case.
Walgreens isn't the only business affected by the 100-foot rule.
Grocery co-op Open Harvest can't sell alcohol at its store near 17th and South streets, although the change as proposed wouldn't help it because it is closer than 50 feet to a residential area.
But it has a public street between it and the residences, and Brande Payne, the grocery co-op's board chair, is hoping to add an amendment to the proposed change that would allow that street to count as an acceptable buffer.
Payne said being able to sell local craft beer and wine would make the store a one-stop shop and help it compete with larger chain grocery stores.
Opponents of the proposed change, however, said council members shouldn't just consider whether Open Harvest or the 48th and O Walgreens should get to sell liquor, but whether they want another 650 potential businesses selling booze.
That's the estimated number of additional businesses that would qualify to get a liquor license if the rules are changed.
Pat Anderson Sifuentes with NeighborWorks Lincoln and the Lincoln Policy Network, said many areas of the city are already inundated with businesses selling alcohol, and the 100-foot rule is the only defense many neighborhoods, especially older ones, have to prevent even more establishments.
"This is the one small tool that we have, and I would ask that you not do away with it until there is something to replace it," Anderson Sifuentes said.
Council members will likely vote on the proposal at their next meeting scheduled for Jan. 23.