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Bloomington Mayor 'Uncomfortable' With Liquor Law Changes

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner.

UPDATED 4:25 p.m. | Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said Tuesday that a change to the city’s liquor laws could have unintended consequences on economic development.

The Bloomington City Council voted 5-4 Monday to change city code to stop any future store from selling packaged alcohol if it’s located within 100 feet from a church, school, preschool, or day care. Previously, only alcohol-driven businesses such as taverns were prohibited from being located near churches and schools.

The change was prompted in part by concerns about a proposed Circle K location, with alcohol sales and video gaming, at Hershey and GE roads in east Bloomington. That’s near a day care and a residential area, in addition to other businesses.

“I’m uncomfortable with the one-size-fits-all (approach),” Renner said. “A change in our ordinance to apply the entire city of Bloomington, when the real goal—I think everybody knows—was to stop Circle K from locating at that particular location.”

Alderman Joni Painter represents Ward 5, which includes the GE-Hershey intersection. She proposed the ordinance change.

“The council has been unfairly mischaracterized, I believe by some highly motivated sellers, that we’re targeting Circle K on this issue. And nothing could be further from the truth. This has brought several things to a head,” Painter said Monday. “We do not want to discourage you (Circle K). This particular location is really not in the best interest of the neighborhood.”

Painter said Tuesday that Renner had "completely mischaracterized my words and intent." In a comment on GLT's Facebook page, Painter said she doesn't have "some sort of grudge against Circle K."

Painter said neighbors raised concerns about liquor sales so close to a day care.

"It is very offensive to the day care, as well as the parents who have children going to that day care,” Painter said. 

Painter said she thinks the change will more closely align Bloomington's laws with the Town of Normal's. And she said the GE-Hershey location also wasn't ideal for Circle K because it "is located on a floodplain and it is undeveloped, meaning it has no water or sewer lines."

She suggested Circle K consider moving furthest west, onto the former GE plant property. She said opening at GE-Hershey would depress home values in the area.

"It would certainly be something for Circle K to consider, but they are being heavily courted by some very motivated sellers of the property off Hershey Road," Painter said on Facebook. "I really can't blame them for looking after their own best interests, but it's my job to look after the interests of our whole community."

Impacting Other Projects?

Appearing Tuesday on GLT’s Sound Ideas, Renner said the ordinance change could stop grocery stores from opening in other parts of the city. Kroger, for example, considered building a new Marketplace store across College Avenue from Meijer. There is a church nearby, Renner said. (Kroger has since put its plans on hold.)

“The thing that I have difficult with is changing our code for all places throughout the city because we don’t want a particular project,” Renner said.

Renner said the city’s Liquor Commission already can address neighborhood concerns about a liquor license applicant, without any changes to city code. Renner also noted that Circle K had yet to even file a liquor license application.

“You could’ve stopped Circle K without changing the ordinance,” Renner said.

The McLean County Chamber of Commerce isn't weighing in yet.

"The Chamber has not received any response from our membership on this," said John Walsh, government and public affairs manager. "We have reviewed the amendment and are working to inform our membership what the changes will entail moving forward. The Chamber has no comment at this time."

Painter, who was appointed to the council in 2014 and re-elected in 2015 and 2017, also supported a yearlong moratorium on new video gaming machines that passed in February.

“We want to stop the rapid proliferation of gaming parlors in Bloomington,” she said.

Existing restaurants, taverns, and package license holders will not be affected by Monday’s ordinance change. They will be grandfathered in.

You can also listen to GLT's full interview with Renner:

GLT's full interview with Renner.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.