Council reverses decision
Wednesday, April 09, 2014 7:00 PM
MARINETTE - Many holes were poked into the Marinette City Council's previous reasoning for denying a liquor license to Halo Bar during Wednesday night's hearing and special council meeting.
The decision was reversed and the bar was given the license after a 7-1 vote on the matter Wednesday. Alderwoman Shirley Kaufman voted against it and Martha Karban was absent.
During the hearing, the bar's owner Andrea Raygo had only one thing left to say.
"I just want to be treated fairly," she said.
Raygo had previously made it known that she did not agree with the council's previous decision to deny the license or the reasoning they provided.
Joe Grinsteiner, the owner of the property Raygo is renting for Halo Bar, and his wife Kyla prepared statements in Raygo's defense. Other community members also voiced their support during the hearing.
After the April 2 council meeting, when the members voted five to four against granting Halo Bar a license, Raygo received a denial letter which gave two reasons for the denial - because the council opposed any more taverns in Marinette's downtown district and because the bar would be within 300 feet of a church, Cornerstone Christian Fellowship located at 1715 Main St.
At Wednesday's meeting, City Attorney Jonathon Sbar brought to light the fact that the Cornerstone Christian Fellowship may or may not be a church, according to federal standards.
"Is it a church? I think it is somewhat of a question," Sbar said. "The group, this fellowship group, has not applied for a federal tax exemption certificate. There are no other churches, what I would call bricks-and-mortar churches in town, that have applied for that and not received it. So it does kind of stand out. I don't know why a church would pay taxes if it didn't have to."
He also said that the sign does not have the word "church" in it, nor did the application for the sign. The only time he had seen the word applied to the fellowship was in its recent Facade Improvement Grant application.
Sbar also addressed whether or not the council members wanted to see fewer bars in Marinette's downtown area was a legal reason to deny the license.
"We do have broad discretion to deny or grant (licenses)," Sbar said. "On the other hand, there was not a ton of talking at the meeting about the basis for the denial. Those are issues the city might have to wrestle with if this does go to litigation."
Kaufman stood by her no vote and explained what her vision for Marinette is.
"My personal opinion is not personal opinion, it's what I think of Marinette and I want to see Marinette downtown more like a downtown," she said. "Right now it is not a downtown ... Basically, I would like to see Marinette develop a downtown again and that is where I come from."
Alderman Ken Keller, who voted in favor of the license April 2, voiced why he was disappointed when the council members voted against granting the license.
"There are more than one bar downtown and they bring the money in," he said. "Are we going to change the zoning every time somebody goes out of business? Just change the zoning so they can't open it back up as what the previous business was?"
Alderwoman Dorothy Kowalski also gave her reasoning for her no vote April 2.
"I think the presentation to the council could have been better ... I think that was part of the issue," she said. "The second part of the issue was the whole issue of the church. That's where I was coming from, OK. The issue with the church and the 300 feet. I'm just tired of making exemptions, exemptions for whatever else in the ordinance. Why have them if we just keep changing them? That's where I was coming from."
She also admitted that she was not as informed then on the legalities of all the facets of the licensing issue - such as what is the legal definition of a church and what reasons are permissible for denying a license.
"I understand that we could not anticipate that this was going to happen, but having this information before we voted would have been helpful to all of us," she said.
According to Alderman Dennis Colburn, the city council has a responsibility toward the Marinette residents and that denying the liquor license for the Halo Bar may not have accurately represented the citizens' interests.
"I agree that we do have general discretion at council to do that (grant/deny licenses), but what we have to be representative of is the best interest of the residents," he said. "Do I want to see another bar downtown? No, I do not and that is my honest opinion. But my opinion is only one out of the 10,000 people in this town. It is not the majority opinion that I am seeing right now and therefore, I have to represent that."