City sees some resistance to proposed liquor store move
Mayor Todd Larson wanted to talk about a building Tuesday night, not to discuss the philosophy behind why the city is in the liquor store business. Turns out, he got a little bit of both.
Tuesday's Farmington City Council meeting had only one item on the regular agenda - to receive comment regarding a proposed purchase of the building at 420 Elm St. The city of Farmington is considering purchasing the building, which once housed a Tom Thumb store and currently is half filled by a laundromat.
City administrator David McKnight has cited cost savings and a desire for better visibility as the reason for the proposed move.
Opening the discussion, Larson said council members were there to hear thoughts on the building as a proposed site for a new location of the city-owned downtown liquor store. He did not want to get into discussions about whether or not the city should be running municipal liquor stores, but council member Julie May disagreed.
"How can we talk about 'no philosophy' discussions when we're talking about $1 million in bonding?" she asked.
In the past, May has argued that Farmington should not be in the liquor business. As a homeowner who recently purchased a home near the Elm Street site, May said she thought the neighborhood - much of which was built during Farmington's early years - was far too residential to include a liquor store.
She wasn't alone. Three other residents who lived near the building expressed their distaste with the proposal, as well. Neighbor Sue Gerardy said there are kids living in several nearby houses. A liquor store and the potential clientele it brings would send a bad message to kids, she said.
"We don't want our kids exposed to that," Gerardy said.
Tim Thompson offered up another philosophy for consideration. Thompson asked council why they wanted to buy the building and take it off of the tax rolls. Thompson also accused council of holding "closed door" meetings to talk about the possible purchase.
Minnesota's Open Meeting Law allows government entities to close meetings to discuss land sale proposals.
Both Larson and parks and recreation director Randy Distad assured the residents and Thompson the city was not trying to hide any information from residents and that this week's meeting was designed to get resident feedback before council moves ahead with any sale. Larson said, the city has other possibilities it is investigating for a possible relocation of the liquor store.
Planning commission member Doug Bonar had more philosophical questions for the council. Bonar asked what he called a basic question. "Is there a plan?"
Bonar asked whether a new location was enough to increase sales for the liquor store. He called location just one part of the solution, identifying personnel and product are the others. He advised council members to look at more than a location as a solution to increasing liquor store profits.
After half an hour of comment, Larson closed the public comment portion of the meeting and brought the matter back to the council table. Council is scheduled to look at the matter again at its Feb. 6 meeting, but May felt they should have a workshop before that time to discuss some of the philosophical questions, then come back to the location question after they establish direction.
McKnight was out of town for this week's meeting but is expected back later this week. The city will hold a workshop following the 6:30 p.m. Economic Development Authority meeting to discuss the plan further.