Kansas City Council gets it wrong on liquor issue in the 18th & Vine District

By The Kansas City Star Editorial Board

The Kansas City Council erred Thursday in passing an ordinance that essentially strips churches and schools in the 18th & Vine District of their power to veto a liquor license for any new business within 300 feet of such entities.

By a 10-3 vote, the council passed the ordinance sponsored by Councilman Jermaine Reed. A new jazz club and two restaurants want to lease space in the area, and Reed touted the change to the ordinance as a way to help clear the path to attract additional businesses to the struggling district.

While bringing new businesses to 18th and Vine is a laudable goal, the council’s decision to go against its own long-standing, citywide ordinance that gives churches and schools veto power is a head-scratcher.

The new ordinance targets only the 18th & Vine District. In other entertainment hubs such as the Power & Light District, Crossroads, Westport and Zona Rosa, churches and schools still will have a say over which businesses locate in close proximity. And that’s a point of contention for church leaders and council member Alissia Canady, who objected to denying churches and schools the opportunity to oppose or support. 

“I am very hesitant to support legislation that takes away the voice of the base of the black community,” she said.

Why would the council take away the rights of churches and schools in the 18th & Vine District but not in the other entertainment areas? To suppress veto power in one district and not the others is an unfair, uneven policy. The desire to bring more taverns and more patrons to the district should not trump the concerns of existing churches and schools.

Clergy leaders are right that churches and schools wield tremendous influence in communities and neighborhoods. Their voices should be heard when businesses want to locate within 300 feet of their campuses and sanctuaries.

The ordinance should not have been replaced, said Pastor Cassandra Wainwright, president of the Concerned Clergy Coalition, which represents about two dozen churches.

“We are not against progress in the Vine district,” Wainwright said. “Nothing is further from the truth. But to strip church and schools of their voice it takes us back to some sort of voter suppression for us.”

Reed, a 2019 mayoral candidate, says the policy change moves 18th and Vine in the right direction, and by bringing in new businesses, the city can expect to see an increase in sales and use taxes, earnings taxes, as well as convention and tourism taxes.

But the possibility of progress should not come at the expense of the people the City Council represents. As Wainwright said, council members will have to answer to the people at the ballot box.

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