St. Charles mayor pitches new plan for licensing taverns

St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina wants to create a three-tiered liquor license system that would see taverns close anywhere from midnight to 2 a.m. The plan is an attempt to address ongoing concerns with a proliferation of activity at downtown taverns requiring police intervention.

Rogina unveiled his plan at a Liquor Control Commission meeting Monday night. The idea is a spinoff of what Naperville has in place to control the active night life scene in its downtown.

Rogina wants to revise the local liquor laws to make midnight the base closing time for all nonpackage liquor sales in the city. All those establishments would then have the ability to apply for either a 1 a.m. or 2 a.m. closing time for an additional fee.

Rogina said the idea is to make a later closing time a privilege that only establishments with the best track records would receive and retain. To ensure that, the liquor commission and city council would review 2 a.m. permits every year. The city council would establish the right to pull back a 2 a.m. closing time to 1 a.m. or midnight if an establishment receives too many warning letters or violations from the city. The exact format for how many, or how severe, the violations an establishment would have to get before losing its late night privilege is not yet determined.

“That’s going to be the trickiest part,” Rogina said.

Police Chief Jim Lamkin said there is a lot of gray area in liquor ordinance violations that could make it difficult to establish a clear formula for revoking late night permits.

“There may be issues that occur that don’t rise to the level of an actual license violation, but there may still be issues of ongoing activity or tolerance level at an establishment,” Lamkin said. “I’m not sure we’re going to be able to clearly say two strikes and you’re out.”

Rogina said the solution to that dilemma may involve the city council’s own discretion on a case-by-case basis and the ability to evaluate ongoing “unprofessional activity.” He said the key will be consistent enforcement.

“You get into a very dangerous situation if you’re not consistent,” Rogina said. “(License holders) should know all licenses will be handled in the same manner.”

Liquor commissioners generally spoke in favor of the plan, but they said more detail is needed. For instance, Commissioner Maureen Lewis wondered how would 2 a.m. establishments handle a large influx of patrons coming in from a neighboring establishment that closes at 1 a.m. A long line could result in more intoxicated patrons milling around outside or taverns exceeding their maximum occupancy, she said.

Those details and the legal ability to pull back closing times will all be worked out before the plan comes to the full city council.

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