Following heightened concerns over alcohol-related problems, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin is proposing a moratorium on new alcohol licenses downtown.
Details of the proposal are unclear, but it would take effect in a “high density” and a “high police call” area in downtown Madison, according to a resolution that will be introduced at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. The proposal will be referred to the Common Council Executive Committee.
“We have too many places selling drinks in Madison, particularly in the downtown area,” Soglin said. “The key cumulative effect is we tragically lead the nation as one of the worst cities for binge drinking and regardless of the source of alcohol, it shows up in our downtown streets after 11 p.m., particularly on weekends.”
Soglin said the first step would be to adopt a moratorium on new licenses downtown and the second would be to establish new criteria for issuing licenses.
The mayor has called attention to alcohol-fueled violence downtown as part of his argument for vetoing a beer and wine license to a Taco Bell Cantina on State Street. Addressing violence downtown with the current density of alcohol establishment will require several strategies, Soglin said.
“We will have to get better control of those blocks where we have these problems,” Soglin said, noting that will be an additional expense. “Secondly, we have to cut down on the volume of space that is used to sell alcohol.”
In addition to more stringent guidelines for issuing new licenses, Soglin said these strategies could include controlling hours of operation for operating establishments, shrinking the sizes of bars or possibly revoking licenses.
Ald. Mike Verveer, District 4, he will not support a sweeping ban on alcohol licenses downtown.
“I am not supportive of a blanket moratorium that covers most every scenario,” Verveer said. “I firmly believe that 99 percent of bona fide restaurants with alcohol licenses cause absolutely no problem and are in no way, shape or form a drain on police resources.”
However, Verveer said he could support a moratorium on taverns — defined in Madison General Ordinances as any place that fermented malt beverages are sold for consumption on the premises — with an exception for existing business owners.
Before she supports a moratorium, Ald. Ledell Zellers, District 2, said the proposal would need an endpoint and a strategy to reach that point. Addressing the root causes of violence downtown is necessary, Zellers said.
“Obviously, we’re experiencing (problems downtown) with the current licenses and and so simply having a moratorium is not getting to solutions for what we’re currently experiencing,” Zellers said.
Soglin is meeting Tuesday with downtown Alds. Verveer, Zellers and Zach Wood, District 8, to discuss the proposal.
Madison Police Capt. Jason Freedman said a framework addressing capacity and consumption — “twin drivers” of alcohol-related problems — would be beneficial.
Meanwhile, the city’s Alcohol License Review Committee is planning to hold a special meeting in February to review data from a variety of city departments and UW-Madison on alcohol usage.
“We’re trying to get ahead of the curve and call a timeout and get our arms around all the data people have,” ALRC Chair Tom Landgraf said.