The Franklin County Court of Appeals rendered a decision on December 31, 2015 which Ohio liquor permit holders and applicants should take interest. The decision by the Tenth District Court of Appeals in City of Mentor v. Sines, Inc. reversed the lower court’s decision denying a new permit application.
Sines, Inc. has operated an old-fashioned service station in the City of Mentor, Ohio since the 1957. In 2002 Sines applied for but was denied a municipal zoning variance for reconfiguration of the station’s interior and enlargement of the retail area. The application to reconfigure the premises did not propose the sale of any alcoholic beverages. Sines has always sold retail items at this location and subsequently decided to expand sales to include alcoholic beverages. Therefore, Sines applied for a C1, C2 permit which the City of Mentor (“City”) objected. The Division of Liquor Control (“Division”) overruled the City’s objection. The City next appealed to the Liquor Control Commission (“Commission”) which affirmed the Division’s Order approving the issuance of the permit to Sines, Inc.
The City next appealed to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas which reversed the Commission. Although Sine’s operation of the gas station, along with the sale of automotive retail items such as windshield wipers, windshield washer fluid, oil and fuel additives, as well as soft drinks and snacks, constituted a lawful, non-conforming use in a residential zone of the City, the common pleas court concluded that the sale of alcoholic beverages was an unlawful extension of Sines’ legal non-conforming use.
The issue for the court of appeals involves the legal interpretation of the effect of conflicting applications of the state of Ohio’s liquor laws with the city of Mentor’s municipal zoning ordinances.
The Mentor ordinance prohibits an enlargement or increase in the non-conforming use where an enlargement results in increased non-conformity. Accordingly, Mentor’s position is that its ordinance prohibits Sines from extending its non-conforming use by adding other uses that would be prohibited generally in the zoning district. In essence, Mentor argues that the sale of alcoholic beverages under C-1 and C-2 permits, constitutes an expanded use of the property, based on beverages already sold by Sines at that location, that, in essence, alcohol sales are prohibited by its zoning ordinance and that, increased activity at the location creates safety concerns.
However, courts have stated the exclusive authority to regulate the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages is vested in the Ohio Division of Liquor Control and the Ohio Liquor Control Commission. In this case, the City is clearly attempting to use zoning regulations to control or prohibit the sale of alcohol, which is prohibited by R.C. 519.211.
The court of appeals also rejected the City’s position that the issuance of the liquor permits to Sines would violate its zoning ordinance. The Court specifically cited R.C. 4303.292(A)(2)(a) that local zoning ordinances are not considered to be a basis for objection to the issuance, transfer of ownership, renewal or transfer of location of a liquor permit. The Division and the Commission followed this law in overruling the objections of the City that were based on its zoning ordinances.