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Merits of liquor law ignites gun club debate

When Scott Andrzejczak applied for a liquor license to open a winery back in October, he probably never dreamed it would spark debate, confusion and discord that would linger for months.

While trying to hammer out a liquor license law at the March 5 Kinnickinnic Town Board meeting, supervisors struggled to stay on topic.

Conversation veered from large-gathering and adult-entertainment laws to whether the local gun club should be allowed to operate without a liquor license.

When Andrzejczak applied for a liquor license to open 65 Vines, 1105 Coulee Trail, the board realized the town has no liquor licensing law.

The big picture, says Town Board Chairman Roger Van Beek, is to craft a law to allow businesses that are a good fit for the town's rural character to operate, but one that will also protect the town from unwanted businesses.

To accomplish this, Van Beek suggested attaching zoning to liquor licensing.

"We would not be issuing a liquor license unless the business was rezoned commercial," Van Beek said. "Spot zoning gives us a chance to see if the business is a fit for the town."

When Supervisor Bill Gnatzig tried to word a motion to that effect, he made an exception for wineries, golf courses and the existing gun club in the town.

Mention of the River Falls Sportsmen's Club, 1130 Rifle Range Rd., sparked renewed debate.

Gnatzig noted the point of writing the law with this wording right now is so the board doesn't "tie the hands" of the winery in the process.

Van Beek added they should word the law so as not to shut the doors for the existing rifle range.

Supervisor Mae Wolfe seemed fine with the commercial zoning requirement, but couldn't get past the exceptions.

"If selling liquor isn't part of their operation (the Sportsmen's Club), why would it close them down?" Wolfe asked.

Treasurer Brenda LaValley said the Sportsmen's Club used to come to the board to get picnic licenses to sell beer, but stopped doing so about 20 years ago when the state began requiring certified bartenders to serve at events where picnic licenses were granted.

Clerk Lola Higgins said the board stopped giving the club picnic licenses, too, because it felt guns and alcohol don't mix. She also noted the town has never had trouble or complaints about the gun club.

The Sportsmen's Club doesn't sell alcohol, according to LaValley, but alcohol is consumed there and a donation cup is used.

Wolfe was adamant that the state doesn't allow giving away alcohol and that the new liquor license law should force them into compliance, regardless if there has been any trouble or not.

Supervisor Axel Bogdan told Wolfe the gun club is a private club, not open to the public.

Gnatzig also defended the Sportsmen's Club, saying any alcoholic consumption isn't done while shooting firearms.

"Most people who are trained with firearms are really good at self-policing when shooting," Gnatzig said.

Wolfe said she wanted more citizen input before making a decision. Supervisor Dave Nelson said it was unfair to discuss the gun club without a representative from the club present.

"You're off track, Mae," Van Beek said. "With passing an ordinance, we're not automatically giving the gun club a liquor license. We're giving them the option to come forward to apply for a liquor license if they want to sell alcohol.

"We're not making them change zoning either. We're excepting them."

Wolfe thought making the exception for the winery and gun club was "forcing the gun club to come to the forefront to come into compliance."

With Wolfe and Nelson opposing, a draft of the law was passed, saying, "Class A and B malt and liquor licenses will carry a commercial zoning requirement with the exception of wineries, golf course and sportsmen's clubs."

Van Beek said he plans to ask town attorney Bob Loberg if the town can write the law to say that only products produced at the winery can be sold, excluding all other liquors.

The board agreed to look at writing a large-gathering law at a future meeting, since questions came up during the discussion about dance halls, outdoor one-time events and picnic licenses.

In other Town Board business, an amendment to a resolution concerning the bidding of roadwork was passed.

The amendment encourages Asphalt Associates to consider participating in this year's roadwork bids.

Asphalt Associates hasn't bid on roadwork in the town since Van Beek became board chairman because Van Beek works for Asphalt.

A few years ago some residents raised concerns that Asphalt Associates was favored because of Van Beek's position on the Town Board.

The Town Board made clear that since Van Beek is not owner of the company, nor has he received any bonus or payment if Asphalt Associates was selected, that there was no conflict of interest.

However, to avoid any controversy, Asphalt Associates decided not to bid on roadwork in Kinnickinnic while Van Beek remained chairman.

Van Beek isn't running again in the spring election, so the board is encouraging Asphalt Associates to bid along with other companies.

Often roadwork bidding is minimal, and the town has to spend more money to re-advertise bids. Town officials are hoping for more bids, more competition and lower costs.

Van Beek abstained from this vote and had no part in the discussion.

The board also selected dates for the following meetings: regular town board meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, April 8; electors' annual meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, April 15; open book 6-8 p.m. May 20; and board of review 6-8 p.m. May 22.