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LIQUOR LICENSES AND THE 200 and 500 FOOT RULES-Spaces Not To Touch With a Ten Foot Pole

Half truths abound about two important regulations restricting placement of establishments that sell liquor either on or off premises. The 200 and 500 foot rules are hardly byzantine. A visit to the SLA website or a consultation with a liquor lawyer can prepare a perspective tenant for an effective search for space. Too often however, restaurateurs rely on urban legends passed on by friends, to ascertain the validity of a specific spot. The arduous job of finding the perfect location is easier armed with proper information.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Law prohibits certain licenses from being issued if the location of the establishment is on the same street and within 200 feet of a building that is used exclusively as a school, church, synagogue, or other place of worship. This restriction is for retailing establishments selling liquor for both on and off premise consumption. There are specific rules for the measurement. For corner locations, the building is considered to be on both streets, whether or not there is an entrance to the building on both streets. If the SLA finds that a place has been licensed in violation of the rule, it cannot allow the violations to continue when the license comes up for renewal. There are exceptions to the rule under a “Grandfather “clause. Some of these are: establishment in operation since December 5, 1933, or if the location was licensed before the school/place of worship existed. The courts have adapted a test that looks to whether a building is uses primarily as a school/place of worship. The building will still be considered as such, as long as any other use is incidental to its primary use. In 2007 the rule was amended to clarify this by listing what type of use is deemed incidental.

The 500 foot rule is a bit more complicated. The Alcoholic Beverage Control Law contains restrictions on the approval of certain on premises liquor licenses, if the location is within a 500 foot radius of certain other establishments with on premise liquor licenses. It is important to note, that this applies to only “full” liquor licenses, and not to wine and beer. However there are many exemptions to the rule.

The “Grandfather clause” exempts any licensed establishment that has been continuously licensed since the rule went into effect on November 1, 1993. It does not matter what kind of license was issued for the location, or whether it had been licensed to the same person or corporation. If a location is subject to the rule, the SLA must make an affirmative finding that it is in the public interest to issue the license. In New York City, this “500 foot hearing” is usually done after the local community board has met and given approval to the location, although this is not strictly necessary. Among the considerations the SLA uses to judge are: The number and type of other establishments nearby, the effect of vehicular traffic and parking in proximity, impact on existing noise level, history of ABC violations, and any other factor positive or negative that will affect the public interest. If a local Community Board has certain opposition to issuing a license to a location, it can request stipulations to be met that the SLA will incorporate into conditions of the license privilege. It is important to note that a renewal of a license cannot be denied because of the 500 foot rule. Applications to approve corporate changes are also not subject to the rule.

As in any question regarding governmental regulations, knowledge is power. Rather than relying on urban legend, consult first with an attorney specializing in liquor laws. Then begin the search for restaurant space.

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