Getting A Liquor Permit (Part I)
When I first started practicing, my law firm held weekly meetings on Thursday nights. One of the agenda items was a discussion by each attorney of his or her new files. Inevitably, one attorney would say “well, I have a simple divorce.” This would always elicit knowing smirks from the other attorneys sitting around the table who knew that “a simple divorce” is an extremely rare event. This image always comes to mind when clients call me to say that they want to open a restaurant and get a liquor permit very quickly.
Clients look at the liquor permit application and feel that it can be put together quickly. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, because the liquor permit process is so complicated, it will take 2 columns to discuss. Timing is always the key. If all the stars align and your client is conscientious in doing all the legwork, then maybe, just maybe, by the time the restaurant is ready to open, the liquor permit will be approved.
There are municipal, real estate, and corporate issues that must be reviewed when applying for a restaurant liquor permit. The first thing that needs to be determined is what needs to be done to get the Zoning Authority to sign off on the application. There are four municipal offices that need to sign your application (Zoning, Town Clerk, Fire Marshal, and Health). Although getting the Health Department to sign off on an application is frequently the last signature received for the liquor permit application, the Zoning Authority’s sign off may be the one that takes the most time from the attorney’s perspective.
In some municipalities, the Zoning Enforcement Officer will simply sign the liquor permit application as long as the proposed restaurant is located in a zone where restaurants are permitted. In other municipalities (including Danbury), liquor permit applicants must apply to the Zoning Commission to obtain a Special Exception in order to get the municipal Zoning Authority to sign off on a liquor permit application. This entails submitting an application to the Planning and Zoning office and attending a public hearing. The application also must be submitted to the Planning and Zoning Office in sufficient time prior to the public hearing for them to publish legal notice as prescribed by law.
If the next meeting agenda is already full, the application will be pushed off until the Zoning Commission meeting. In some municipalities, the Zoning Commission meets only once a month. If there isn’t a quorum, then everything on the agenda is carried over until the next meeting (month). The time factor for receiving Zoning Authority approval must be reviewed when you first meet with your attorney.
The Health Department signature is usually the most difficult to obtain. This will not be given until the restaurant is almost ready to open and all equipment has been installed. Frequently, I will submit the liquor permit application to the Liquor Control Commission prior to receiving the Health Department signature so the designated Liquor Control Agent can start the review process. I then send this signature in to Liquor Control as soon as it is received.
The Fire Marshal must do an on-site examination of the proposed restaurant premises to make sure that it complies with all fire safety codes. This must be scheduled with the Fire Marshal and the timing of the on-site examination is determined by the Fire Marshal’s schedule.
The easiest municipal signature to obtain should be the Town Clerk’s. This will be given by the Town Clerk along with a listing of any municipal ordinance reducing the hours of sale of alcoholic liquors for the municipality where your proposed restaurant is located.
Next column, we will examine the remainder of the liquor permit application process and review some tips to make the application process go smoother.