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City went too far regulating alcohol sales


A regulation to help protect Rochester neighborhoods from the trouble sometimes associated with corner stores has been repealed because the city did not have the authority to implement it.

For the past three or four years, the City of Rochester regulated retail operations that sell alcohol, tobacco or tobacco paraphernalia, lottery tickets, or firearms, considering them "high-impact" businesses.

These businesses were not allowed to operate in areas zoned for residential or in small-scale neighborhood districts, says Brian Curran, the city's corporation counsel. Think of small corner stores with housing on both sides and behind them, he says.

"The limitations were intended to strike a balance," Curran says, so that people could still get the products they want, but neighboring homes were shielded from the impact. Some corner stores are magnets for drug dealing, loitering, and other problems.

But while researching court rulings, Curran says, the city learned that it doesn't have the authority to restrict alcohol sales; it's the state's job under New York's Alcoholic Beverage Control Law.

From now on, stores that sell alcohol but none of the other targeted items will not be labeled "high impact." The label still applies, though, if the store carries alcohol and one or more of the other products.

And stores that carry tobacco or tobacco paraphernalia, lottery tickets, or firearms remain regulated, high-impact operations.

The error was discovered, Curran says, after a court ruled that the city had improperly limited bar hours in some districts. Subsequent research revealed that the city was also out of step with the state on the issue of alcohol sales, he says.

Kyle Crandall, president of the Beechwood Neighborhood Coalition, says that the regulation change is a setback for city neighborhoods and that he wonders why the city's legal department didn't realize the regulation was improper in the first place.