Carmel considers ordinance to approve new 3-way liquor permits

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The Carmel City Council is considering an ordinance that regulates how four new, three-way liquor licenses can be used in Carmel.

In March, Indiana lawmakers passed a provision to allow the Alcohol and Tobacco Commission to issue new permits for restaurants and bars to sell beer, wine and liquor by the glass in growing municipalities in Boone and Hamilton counties. The total number of active permits cannot exceed 24 and will cost $40,000 each for the communities of Whitestown, Lebanon, Zionsville, Westfield, Carmel and Fishers.

Carmel city officials are discussing a proposal to mandate that the four new permits in Carmel meet a variety of conditions:

  • Permits would have to be for a business in one of the following four economic development areas: Carmel City Center, The Carmel Arts & Design District, Midtown or The Proscenium. Those final two areas are projects that have been approved by the council but have not yet begun construction.
  • The businesses must be open a minimum of six days and 30 hours a week.
  • Application for the permit shall contain the name of the business, its “theme,” type of dining, expected hours, typical food and beverage selections, description of applicant’s business experience, financial statements for the past five years and a statement on how the business would benefit the city and the area.

Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard would evaluate and consider the application and make a recommendation to the Carmel City Council for approval. This process is different from the current system that gives the state the authority to review and approve permits.

Carmel City Councilor Bruce Kimball said the council is still learning about the new process, but the goal is to protect small businesses who can’t always afford to buy three-way licenses on the open market. Currently, permits are bought and sold like commodities and their value can increase based on how many are available at a given time. It’s not uncommon for restaurateurs to pay more than six figures for a permit, which can be resold to another business.

“We want to make sure they are used in the right areas, and of course the small businesses are the key to a vibrant downtown,” Kimball said. “Not necessarily the chains, but the mom and pop businesses are really important to support.”

Brainard said he wants to assure people the goal is to promote small, unique establishments and not giant restaurant chains that can already afford to pay premium prices for permits.

“We have a lot of small businesses that can’t afford to buy a permit, and as a result, they can’t open,” he said.

Rick Sharp, former president of the Carmel City Council who lost his bid to unseat Brainard, said he questions whether this proposal interferes with free market principles. He said he doesn’t like government to choose winners and losers.

But Brainard sharply disagreed with that assessment, saying this will level the playing field for small businesses who often cannot buy permits under the current system.

“Right now, it’s not a free market,” he said. “If I were doing it, there wouldn’t be any limitations except by zoning at the local level. We have a system where it’s not a free-market system in Indiana. Distribution is approved and controlled by the state.”

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3 Comments

  1. What, exactly, are the ‘right’ areas? I have to agree with Rick. Is it the city’s or any government’s responsibility to choose winners and losers? Isn’t that what voters at least nationally are saying, they are tired of the same old political games? Why is it any different at the local level?
    How, exactly, if it is NOT a free market now will it be any more free with the mayor and 3-4 bobble-headed councilors choosing who is the ‘right’ business/’right’ owner/’right’ themed restaurant? How is this remotely fair to a small locally owned business that purchased a higher priced license already? My gut tells me the ‘choice’ will be driven by donations or given to Carmel’s ole standby Pedcor and subsidiaries, much like the recent decision to place the city funds in a Pedcor-owned/controlled bank who just exited Federal Oversight due to breaking Federal banking regulations; or new bicycle storage requirements when a councilor is connected to a bicycle rack manufacturer? Is that how the ‘free market’ works in Carmel? Maybe the inference is one has to pay to be in the market–hence it is not free.
    The mayor is quoted as saying, “We have a system where it’s not a free-market system in Indiana. Distribution is approved and controlled by the state,” yet somehow it is different when distribution is approved and controlled by the city? At least with the state the decision(s) are made by people who are qualified and/or work in the field everyday.

  2. Bob, you bring up many of the questions I myself had. I also question, if Carmel denied a license to someone who happens to purchase a 3 way, if that would hold up in court down the road. After all, it is the state’s final decision. BTW, I am totally in the dark about the bicycle parking ordinance I see them discussing. In my day (and I still ride my bike), one of the advantages of riding a bike, is you could park it ANYwhere!

  3. Look at what the criteria are for winning “approval” from the Mayor. I have been contacted by more than one small business owner who told me they would not have been able to open under the proposed rules. The Mayor can “sharply” disagree all he wants. He has already demonstrated the value of his word with the tax and rate increases he has made. My god even Jeff Worrell of all people is trying to distance himself from that bomb!

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