Who protests applications for alcoholic beverage licenses?

Applications for alcoholic beverage manufacturing or sale local permits and state licenses generally require public notice, which in turn, often results in the application being protested.  All types of licenses can generate protests.  I’ve had protests on convenience stores, restaurants, pubs, breweries, and hotels, to name a sampling.  the following are some of the types of protestants I typically encounter: 

1) Business competitors:  A business owner who feels a license applicant will cut into their bottom line will sometimes use ABC or CUP protest processes to fight approval of a new license.  Most often, I’ve seen this with off-sale license applications, like convenience stores and grocery stores.  Business competition is not a recognized basis for protest so these protestants make insincere arguments about crime, alcoholism, and so on.  Because their motivation is fairly transparent, these protestants often rally residents, shool administrators, and anti-alcohol groups; and lobby elected officials and law enforcement.  They often resort to spreading misinformation about the application.  Thus, these types of protests, although abusive of the process, can be very effective, at least in stretching out and making expensive the application process.

2) Tax funded NGOs (non-govermental organizations):  The number of non-profit organizations that oppose permit and license applications has been growing.  These organizations often receive tax funded grants from government agencies.  Metrics such as the number license applications opposed may be one of the tools used to support applications for funding.  In my experience, some organizations or personnel within these organizations can be very indiscriminate in their selection of applications to protest.  For example, I recently encountered opposition from such a group in a situation in which my client was purchasing an existing unrestricted license and moving it 300 feet and agreeing to multiple restrictions.  The transaction resulted in the closure of the unrestricted business.  The protesting organization appeared to assist, or least acquiesce, in a public misconception that a new license was being granted even though in actuallity an existing license was simply becoming more restricted.

3) Residents living nearby:  These are the most legitimate protestors in the eyes of the law.  Typically, they are concerned with issues like noise, vagrancy and loitering, impact on children and schools, litter, parking, trespass, and public nuissance.

4) Neighborhood organizations: These organizations are different from the organizations mentioned above.  They don’t receive funding tied to their protest activities.  They may be a community planning group or business district group.  Typically, their concerns are legitimate but they are more reasonable and responsive to measures that address their concerns, in comparison to the anti-alcohol organizations mentioned above.

5) Law enforcement:  They have standing equal to, or even greater than, residents in the public application process.  Their concerns pertain to the relationship of alcoholic beverage sales to crime rate, particularly in high crime areas.  If the local police or sheriff’s department does not withdraw its protest – usually based on restrictions – it is unlikely that the application will be approved.

Each application requires an individualized approach.  Often a pro-active outreach strategy is best but not always.  Some protestants, or potential protestants, are more open to negotiation than others.  Some application processes involve more public notice than others, and thus may warrant a more pro-active approach.  Additionally, having a relationship or credibility in a community can be very helpful.

About William Adams

Attorney at Norton, Moore, & Adams, LLP.
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