Fraser lets liquor license decision breathe |

Fraser lets liquor license decision breathe

Reid ArmstrongSky-Hi NewsFraser, CO Colorado
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi News | Sky-Hi News

The Town of Fraser liquor licensing authority delayed its decision about whether to grant Meredith Lipscomb a license for The Icebox LLC, during their hearing on Wednesday, Nov. 17.The authority said it required more time to review petitions and other evidence before making any determination. It is scheduled to reconvene on Dec. 1.Roughly 40 people attended the hearing, which lasted more than 2.5 hours while witnesses from both sides of the issue testified and cross-examined each other. Town Attorney Rod McGowan conducted the hearing on behalf of the town board, and Town Manager Jeff Durbin said he was impressed by the civility both sides showed in presenting their arguments.

The applicant’s team included lawyer Adam Stapen of Dill, Dill, Carr, Stonbraker & Hutchings, P.C., and Max Scott of Oedipus Inc., a firm that specializes in circulating petitions for liquor licenses. Scott testified that, between Oct. 16 and Nov. 12, his petitioners knocked on roughly 1,000 doors in the “defined neighborhood,” which stretches from Red Dirt Hill to Berthoud Pass.Of the 265 residents who participated in the survey, 159 signed the petition in favor of the new liquor store and 93 people signed against.Scott said he requires advance payment from his clients and does not guarantee the results of a petition.Mark Hanna, manager of Winter Park Market, said that another petition circulated among his customers received about 61 signatures in favor and four against. The opposition did not have organized representation, and it had not circulated its own petition in advance of the hearing.The town also received nine letters in favor of the store and four letters in opposition.

Scott presented data to demonstrate that the population of the neighborhood is growing – figures that were disputed by opponents. Scott’s figures state that there were 2,900 residents in 1990; 4,300 in 2000 and an estimated 5,200 in 2010. The figures also show the population of the defined neighborhood growing to 5,655 by 2015.”What data did you use to show this is a growing neighborhood when tax data and school enrollment is showing something else?” asked resident Pat Rupert in his cross-examination. Developer Clark Lipscomb also testified to growth in the immediate neighborhood, stating that in recent years 20 new homes have been built in Leland Creek, 200 new units have been built in Rendezvous, 47 new homes have been built in Grand Park, and some 200 new condos have been built at the base of Winter Park Resort.Resident Joe McDonald said that the community hasn’t grown since 2006 when a liquor store with a sommelier was turned down by the authority. He argued that the facts Scott presented are outdated.

Applicant Meredith Lipscomb explained that this particular site appealed to her because of its proximity to the pedestrian path, the rec center, the bus stop and its frontage on US Highway 40. She said the gas station attracts recreational vehicles due to ease of turn around and she liked the convenience of having the liquor store next to Winter Park Market. Resident Rich Bennett cross-examined Meredith, noting that two other liquor stores in town are also on the bus route.And, Joe McDonald said, “buses only run through the winter … And, that schedule is getting smaller and smaller.”Resident Shelby Peterson said she would appreciate the convenience of one-stop shopping with the rec center, gas, food and liquor all in one location. “I like that idea,” she said.

Scott also presented CDOT traffic count estimates showing that more than 4 million vehicles pass by the proposed liquor store location annually, another statement the opposition disputed. Resident Joe McDonald said people driving to Rocky Mountain National Park and Grand Lake would have to turn across traffic twice to shop at the liquor store while existing stores down the road can accommodate a large recreational vehicle without a left-hand turn. Rupert noted that traffic counts drop dramatically four months out of the year, calling Scott’s numbers “skewed.”

What’s going to make this store different, Meredith said, is the wine selection: “I’ve always had an entrepreneur side … I’ve always wanted to open a specialty wine shop.”In his testimony, Rocky Mountain Moonshine owner Scott Emery said: “I obviously don’t think we need any more liquor stores,” adding that his store already has a large wine selection with two sommeliers that are full-time employees and more than 2,000 square feet of space dedicated to wine with a wine inventory of $250,000. When resident Mike Phillips asked why Meredith wasn’t just opening a wine bar, she replied that a lot of people come into the market and inquire about purchasing beer. Dan Gile, managing broker Century 21, also testified as to how the existing liquor establishments are not meeting needs of the higher-end, second-home buyers moving into the newer developments. He said that Meredith’s businesses would be frequented by people in search of “quality.”William Borras of Tabernash and owner of Icebox Mountain Sports said he’s against having another liquor store in the neighborhood, stating that the existing four liquor stores are enough to serve the needs of the community.

Several liquor store owners and employees spoke about the financial pie being only so big and the hardship it would cause on them to have a smaller slice with the addition of a fifth liquor store.Competition can’t be a factor according to the state’s liquor law, Stapen refuted.Rick Hogan, an employee at a liquor store in Winter Park spoke of quiet nights waiting for customers to come in the store while others testified to waiting in lines at the established liquor stores.

Stapen argued that the applicant met all the requirements of the Colorado liquor code. Sitting as a quasi-judicial body, he said the town board must weigh only the evidence presented at the hearing. “You must set aside your feelings,” Stapen said. The evidence in favor included circulated petitions showing 66 percent in favor, an over-the-counter petition showing another 63 percent in favor, testimony regarding growth and development in the immediate area and significant pass-through traffic plus a desire for convenience, all of which justifies a need according to prior court cases., Stapen said.”All those testimonies, all those exhibits, against what?” Stapen said. “What does the opposition say?”Testimony regarding the store’s proximity to the rec center, other liquor stores on the bus route and concerns about alcohol abuse are not reasons to deny, he said.The testimony regarding another liquor store that’s now closed is further evidence that there’s a need, he added: “There is no testimony as to why it closed. If it was in existence, then there was a need for one at one time.”The most heated opposition came from the competition, which “does not justify a denial of a liquor license,” Stapen said. “Being afraid of losing customers is another acknowledgment that (the store) will fill a community need,” Stapen said.

Once the licensing authority closed the hearing, no further evidence can be taken into consideration. When the board meets Dec. 1, no public comments will be heard. The board may discuss the issue at the hearing, but may not consider any public comment not entered into evidence at the public hearing. Nor are they permitted to discuss the issue with anyone prior to Dec. 1.

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