County OKs off-sale

In spite of opposition from some neighbors and the City of Detroit Lakes, the Becker County Board went ahead Tuesday and approved a request for an off-sale liquor license near Lake Melissa.

In spite of opposition from some neighbors and the City of Detroit Lakes, the Becker County Board went ahead Tuesday and approved a request for an off-sale liquor license near Lake Melissa.

The business, called "10,000 Lakes Liquors," would be located in the former Malstrom Realty building near Highway 59 and County Road 17 in Lakeview Township.

If measured as the crow flies, the business would just barely be within the 3-mile radius around the Detroit Lakes city limits -- at least according to the city.

By state law, the city municipal liquor store is protected from private competition within 3 miles around city limits, as long as the city's population is under 10,000, said City Administrator Bob Louiseau.

"The city objects primarily because we believe the location is within the 3 mile limit of city boundaries," he said, showing commissioners a map.


State statute measures the 3-mile limit by "the most direct route" from the establishment to the nearest point of city limits, said County Auditor-Treasurer Ryan Tangen.

Although some might argue that means by road, the city says it means "as the crow flies," he said. Louiseau said he researched the matter and was not able to find any evidence that the city's interpretation is wrong.

He added that when the Legislature wants to make it clear in statute that it is not referring to a straight line, it uses the term "driving miles."

By the city's calculation, the new liquor store would be 2.94 miles from the nearest city limits.

"This is a fairly important issue to the city," he said, noting that commissioners can weigh the impact to a municipal liquor store when making a decision on whether to approve or reject a liquor license application.

He pointed out that city liquor store revenue is important to rural residents as well as city folk, since it is used to fund a number of things that benefit everybody, such as the food pantry, youth sports, the public library, and the ice arena.

The city's tax levy would have to go up 10 percent to make up for the revenue produced by the city liquor store if it were lost, he said.

"We're just asking you to continue the past standards and follow the precedent," Louiseau added.


Commissioner John Okeson asked about the County 17 Club, which is an on- and off-sale establishment in the Lake Melissa area located closer to the city than the proposed new liquor store.

Louiseau said the city has annexed territory in the past half-dozen years that extended city limits. The County 17 Club is now within the 3-mile radius, but is grandfathered in, he said.

The Lakeview Township Board unanimously approved the liquor license request, and town board member Gail Hahn attended the county board meeting to urge commissioners to do the same.

"We thought it was a good idea, and an excellent location," she said. If measured by road, the building is outside the 3-mile radius, she said, dismissing the idea that the liquor store would generate large volumes of traffic.

"I think there was probably as much traffic in that location when it was a full blown real estate office," she said.

Okeson, a new commissioner, said he had recently voted for the measure as a township supervisor.

Retired MnDOT engineer Charles Magnusson spoke against the request, saying that the Highway 59-County Road 17 intersection is dangerous. "I am just extremely concerned about that," he said.

He said children in the area will be at risk, including his grandchildren. The site fails to meet the county's 85-foot setback requirement from highways and has very limited parking, he added.


"The site is not adequate for any business that generates a lot of traffic," he argued.

"WE Fest is a traffic disaster in itself, and this is not going to improve it any," he said.

Joy McNamara, who holds the liquor license for the County 17 Club, said she is not complaining about potential competition, but is worried about possible accidents, noting there is a history of serious crashes at the County Road 17 and Highway 59 junction.

Marsha Hall, who is applying for the conditional use permit for the new liquor store, said the 900-square-foot building "will be a small offsale liquor store. I don't plan to have a lot of inventory, just sort of a grandma business," she said.

Commissioner Larry Knutson said he believes the site is outside the city's 3-mile sphere of influence. "I really have no objection to this," he said.

New commissioner Don Skarie said he favored approving it and sending it to the planning commission to work out the details. (Both Knutson and Skarie sit on the planning commission.)

Commissioner Gerry Schram made a motion to approve the liquor license application and Knutson seconded it. It passed 4-0, with Board Chairman Barry Nelson not voting.

The request for a conditional use permit now goes to the planning commission for a recommendation, then back to the county board for final approval.


But don't line up quite yet to watch the city sue the county.

"If it is determined that (the site) is within the city's 3-mile zone, it would be denied on that basis," Knutson said.

Bowe covers the Becker County Board and the court system for the Tribune, and handles the opinion pages for the Tribune and Focus. As news editor of both papers, he is the go-to contact person for readers and the general public: breaking or hard news tips, story ideas, questions and general feedback should be directed to him.
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