FORTVILLE — Fortville officials are considering taking advantage of a state law that would allow them to issue more liquor licences, but they will have to bend the rules to do it.

To take advantage of the law, a community must create a riverfront development district. Such areas, usually created as entertainment districts along waterways, allow a greater concentration of restaurants that serve alcohol.

There’s only one problem in Fortville. It doesn’t have a river.

It does, however, have a creek and two drainage ditches. That might be enough, town officials say, to create a district that would allow the town to issue more liquor licenses.

Indiana municipalities are capped on the number of restaurant liquor licenses based on their populations. Three different kinds of liquor licenses are available to restaurants in Fortville, and the town is capped at three of each kind, town attorney Alex Intermill told the Daily Reporter. One kind is for serving beer, another for beer and wine, and the third for beer, wine and spirits.

Of the nine restaurant liquor licenses available in Fortville, eight have been issued, Intermill said.

If Fortville had a riverfront development district, there would be no cap on the three kinds of liquor licenses available to restaurants, Intermill told Fortville Redevelopment Commission members last week. Communities across the state have created such districts along smaller waterways like the kind Fortville has, he said.

If Fortville leaders create a riverfront development district, it would be the first in Hancock County, according to information from the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission. There are more than 270 riverfront development district liquor licenses for serving beer, wine and spirits across the state.

Boundaries of a riverfront development district have to be within 1,500 feet from the water’s edge, Intermill said.

A map prepared by Adam Zaklikowski, Fortville planning administrator, indicates a riverfront development district would be possible throughout most of the town.

Intermill said restaurants in a riverfront development district would still have to follow local zoning rules and licensing rules like maintaining 200-foot wall-to-wall distances from churches and schools, unless churches and schools grant waivers.

The redevelopment commission voted 4-1 to pass a positive recommendation to the Fortville Town Council to create a riverfront development district. If council members agree, they would establish how many there would be along with their locations and boundaries.

Intermill said he wanted to brief the redevelopment commission on riverfront development districts because it’s common for redevelopment commissions to administer the districts; establish rules, policies and application requirements; and review applications from restaurants.

When a restaurateur seeks a liquor license in a riverfront development district, the process typically starts with them making a presentation to municipal officials, Intermill said. The restaurateur would need an endorsement from the municipality before applying for a liquor license from the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission.

After that, the process is like any other liquor license application, Intermill continued. The alcohol and tobacco commission and Indiana State Excise Police would review the application and ensure the applicant is qualified to hold the license. If that hurdle is cleared, then the matter would be set for a Hancock County Alcoholic Beverage Commission meeting. An orange sign would be posted at the site of the prospective restaurant and members of the public could attend the meeting to voice their views. The county alcoholic beverage commission would then vote whether to recommend that the state commission issue the license.

Intermill said Fortville officials could set limits for liquor licenses that would be considered in a riverfront development district and dictate which of the three license options would be endorsed. He also said riverfront development district liquor licenses cannot be transferred and don’t permit carryout sales. They have to be turned in to the state alcohol and tobacco commission if their associated restaurant goes out of business as well.

Intermill said the state’s definition of a restaurant includes enough seating, hot soups, hot sandwiches, coffee, milk and soda for at least 25 people.

Redevelopment commission members Adam Brown, Tim Hexamer, Scott Meyer and Sandie Reed voted in favor of the recommendation to town council.

“I can see some benefits to it,” Meyer said. “The whole point that drives it, positive or negative, is the management of it.”

Robert Wertman voted against.

“I don’t think I can make one recommendation one way or the other,” he said. “This hasn’t been publicly vetted. The town council hasn’t weighed in. I think there’s definitely merit here but I think that there’s a lot more conversations outside this board that need to happen.”

Wertman also questioned the impact a riverfront development district would have on Fortville restaurant owners who currently have liquor licenses.

Intermill said he disagrees with the notion that the districts devalue liquor licenses, because riverfront development district liquor licenses don’t allow owners to do as much, like conduct carryout sales and transfer their licenses.

He also said, based on his experience working with restaurants, that owners of restaurants that are run well welcome new ones coming to town. They don’t view it as cutting into their business, he continued, but rather a way to draw more people to town who discover and visit their restaurants as well.

“It’s a mutually beneficial system if the restaurants are running well,” Intermill said.
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