Council overrides church 'veto' of more liquor at 18th & Vine

BY BILL TURQUE

The Kansas City Council voted Thursday to strip a small church in the 18th & Vine District of its long-standing right to veto businesses with liquor licenses within 300 feet of its doors.

The ordinance, sponsored by City Councilman Jermaine Reed, passed on a 10-3 vote after more than an hour of debate and a tangled set of proposed amendments. Voting against the final measure were Councilmen Quinton Lucas and Scott Taylor and Councilwoman Alissia Canady.

Churches and schools throughout the city have the power to veto the location of alcohol-serving businesses within 300 feet. Reed, whose Third District includes 18th & Vine, pressed for an exception that would ease the way for a new jazz club and two restaurants to lease space in the struggling historic and entertainment area.

One of the four churches in the 18th & Vine District, Grace Temple Nondenominational Church on Highland Avenue, objected to the new businesses. The pastor, the Rev. Demean Ellis, said existing businesses in the district that already serve alcohol had been a source of noise, vandalism and serious crime. He was supported by some other east side ministers.

Reed, a candidate for mayor in 2019, said the measure had been under discussion in the community for nearly two months and enjoyed broad support. He noted that under his ordinance any new liquor licenses would still be subject to approval by a majority of eligible property owners or tenants in the surrounding area.

“This policy change moves 18th & Vine in the right direction," Reed said in a statement released following the vote. "And by bringing in new businesses, we can expect to see an increase in sales and use taxes, earnings taxes, and convention and tourism taxes. Wherever we go in the public, the consensus of #LetMoreMusicPlay is what we hear.”

Canady said she learned from city staff Thursday that none of the businesses in question were actually looking at locations within the 300-foot zone, meaning there was no need to pass the ordinance.

The larger issue, she said, was singling out churches in a specific area of the city and denying them of power that churches in other areas would retain.

"There are not many strong institutions on the East Side," Canaday said. "When banks have left, when schools have failed, the church has been the constant institution in the black community."

Lucas, the Third District's at-large council member, proposed an amendment eliminating the church-and-school provision from Reed's ordinance. He proposed another ordinance that he said would establish a consistent standard, eliminating the veto power for churches and schools in 18th & Vine and the four other major entertainment zones of the city: Westport, the Country Club Plaza, the Central Business District and Zona Rosa.

Lucas' amendment was defeated 7-6. His proposed ordinance was referred to the Neighborhoods and Public Safety Committee.

After the vote, Ellis said he was not discouraged.

"It's all in the Lord's hands," he said.

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