Historic PAS Report Series

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Information Report No. 108 March 1958

Liquor Outlets

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Though repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment was making headlines only 25 years ago, the alcoholic beverage business is now quietly accepted in most American cities. Like any other business, it occasionally receives professional attention from planning officials. A number of PLANNING ADVISORY SERVICE subscribers have inquired about zoning for liquor outlets. In urban renewal, too, and even in the preservation of historic areas, establishments that sell liquor have sometimes presented unusual problems.

Liquor outlets are too various to be considered as a single category or to be treated as one by planning regulations. Liquor licenses are often issued to private clubs, hotels, restaurants, grocery and drug stores. Even among so-called exclusive liquor establishments, taverns and cocktail lounges and package stores may have little in common. Differences between individual outlets seem more extreme than is the case with many other businesses. Land use characteristics of a grocery store that carries alcoholic beverages may be indistinguishable from those of one that does not. A package store may prove as appropriate in a suburban shopping center as a hardware or dry goods store. At the opposite extreme, a particular saloon or group of them may be identified with crime and vice that are causing deterioration of surrounding neighborhoods.

Unusual variety is also found in local attitudes on the proper place of liquor and liquor outlets in the community. Taverns are traditionally among the chief social gathering places in some communities, while in others they are unimportant. Differences such as this are likely to influence local lawmakers deciding whether taverns should be allowed in neighborhood shopping districts. Religious and moral views of local residents may also have an effect on such decisions. So may the record of local outlets in adhering to liquor regulations and other laws.

The distinguishing characteristic of liquor outlets is that they are subject to remarkably complicated controls. The sale of almost everything alcoholic is governed by special state statutes and administrative regulations. Many cities have their own liquor codes in addition. Occasionally, these rules can be used to regulate land use in unusual and effective ways.

For example, it may be argued that several kinds of business establishments can be harmful when they are overconcentrated in one section of a city, but authority to prevent or eliminate overconcentration is much more likely to exist for liquor establishments than for any others. On the other hand, license restrictions have in some cases caused headaches for planning officials. They have, for example, added to the difficulties of relocation of licensees affected by some urban redevelopment and renewal projects.

Apart from any direct advantages and disadvantages, liquor laws form a framework that must be considered when planning regulations are being drafted. Officials are often uncertain about the effect of the liquor laws on their own powers. May a zoning ordinance prescribe stricter requirements than an existing alcoholic beverage commission rule? Must the city acquiesce if the state issues licenses for locations where liquor sale is forbidden by the zoning ordinance? Unfortunately, these are often complex legal questions that PLANNING ADVISORY SERVICE cannot answer. This report is designed to give some general information on the liquor business and the ways it is regulated. It is hoped that this will provide useful perspective on the requirements found to be applicable in a particular city and state.

Statistics on Consumption and Retail Outlets

Historical information on quantities of liquor consumed per capita is given in Table 1. The period of national prohibition and the immediately following years are omitted.

Table 1

Distilled Spirits, Malt Liquors, And Wines — Apparent Average Annual Per Capita Consumption: 1850 To 1956

(In gallons, except distilled spirits, which is shown in tax gallons.)

Year Distilled spirits Malt liquors Wines
1850 2.24 1.58 0.27
1860 2.86 3.22 0.34
1870 2.07 5.31 0.32
1871–18801 1.39 6.93 0.47
1881–18901 1.34 11.37 0.48
1891–18951 1.37 15.20 0.39
1896–19001 1.12 15.53 0.36
1901–19051 1.39 17.34 0.47
1906–19101 1.43 19.81 0.62
1915 1.26 18.40 0.33
1940 1.02 12.58 0.66
1945 1.22 18.86 0.73
1950 1.02 17.26 0.93
1951 1.23 16.97 0.87
1952 1.00 16.94 0.85
1953 1.10 16.79 0.90
1954 1.12 16.68 0.86
1955 1.07 16.13 0.89
1956 1.13 15.99 0.89

1 Average for the period.
Source: Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1957, Table 1029.

The number of licenses to sell distilled spirits at retail issued in each state and comparisons of this total with the population are shown in Table 2. The many licenses to sell beer or beer and wine are not included in Table 2.

Table 2

Retail Licences for Sale of Distilled Spirits

Source: The Distilled Spirits Industry — Annual Statistical Review (Washington: Distilled Spirits Institute, 1956), 43.

Alcoholic Beverage Controls

Existing liquor controls are only the most recent response to some old and often disputed problems. Within 50 years after the Pilgrims landed, at least three colonies passed enforceable liquor laws, one of which was directed at overindulgence by ministers.1 In 1794, George Washington ended violent resistance to a federal excise tax on whiskey by calling out 15,000 militiamen. And in the 1850's, cannon were placed around the Chicago city hall to protect it from a mob protesting enforcement of a Sunday closing law.

Agitation for prohibition began to show results shortly before the Civil War, when about a dozen northern states enacted prohibition laws. Nearly all of them, however, were repealed during the war. Toward the end of the century the prohibition movement began once again to gain strength. By the time of the adoption of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1919, 33 states, representing more than half the country's population, had prohibition legislation. National prohibition went into effect in 1920 and ended 13 years later. Congress proposed the Twenty-first Amendment in February 1933, and the needed 36 states ratified it before the end of the year.

The states now had primary responsibility to prevent the serious excesses and abuses that had been associated with many liquor establishments before 1919. Following the federal example, most of them soon repealed their own prohibition laws. They then established the remarkably complex system of licenses and regulations under which the industry operates today. Many of these limitations, such as those on closing hours and sales to minors, are well known. A few of the others included in a recent compilation include: permissible size of retail containers for both on-premise and off-premise consumption; local option; advertising in newspapers, on billboards, and in the liquor outlets themselves; persons from whom retailers may purchase; credit to retailers; price posting; and mandatory mark-up, There is, of course, no uniformity among the states. In order to give some idea of how detailed these requirements sometimes become we quote the limitations on liquor advertising in District of Columbia newspapers.

No licensee may publish or disseminate any advertisement which portrays any picture of Santa Claus, or of any religious or semi-religious figure, character or symbol; or which makes any mention of or contains any illustration of any church, religion, school college or university; or which makes any mention of or contains any illustration of any athletic contest: or game or any participant therein, which makes any claim or infers that the consumption of alcoholic beverages would lead to proficiency in such athletic contest, game or sport; or which contains the endorsement of any person not connected with the manufacturer or seller of the product; or in any way portrays any child or children; or which in any way portrays any nude or semi-nude woman.2

Happily, most of these controls do not directly concern planning agencies, The more important ones that do are briefly discussed below.


Prohibition exists today only in Oklahoma and Mississippi.  Sale of beer is permitted in both states, however, provided the alcohol content does not exceed 3.2 per cent in Oklahoma, 4 per cent in Mississippi.

Local Option

About 16.2 per cent of the people in the United States live in areas that are "dry" for distilled spirits. The prohibition states account for only about 3 per cent. Nearly all the remaining areas are dry by local option. Thirty-eight states have some form of provision permitting a ban on the sale of some or all alcoholic beverages in counties, municipalities, precincts, or other areas. More than half the populations of Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and Kentucky live in such "dry" areas.

Sale of beer is prohibited in only about 9.4 per cent of the country. Sixteen states do not have local option laws applicable to beer, though local authorities in two of these states are given discretionary authority to refuse licenses under certain circumstances.3

When enforcement of license laws breaks down, local option may provide a harsh but effective remedy for the resulting problems. At the end of World War II, the Chicago Crime Commission investigated conditions in taverns in the Woodlawn section of Chicago. It discovered gambling, vice, and drunkenness, but little disciplinary action by the authorities. Illinois law authorizes local option elections in Chicago precincts, and the issue was placed on the ballot in 1946. A "dry" victory closed 31 taverns.4 But such "local local" option may also create anomalies, since the boundaries of "dry" districts and zoning districts are not likely to be coordinated. After an election, a main shopping street may be "dry" on one side, "wet" on the other.

Monopoly and Open License States

In 17 so-called monopoly states, the state government engages to some extent in the sale of alcoholic beverages. In nearly all these states, government operated stores are the only retail outlets in which liquor is sold for off-premises consumption. The other 29 "wet" states are known as private or open license states. Table 3 gives consumption and population figures for states in both groups.

Table 3

Apparent Consumption of Distilled Spirits by State

License states Per cent of total population of wet states Per cent of U.S. total consumption Rank in consumption
**Arizona 0.7 0.5 37
*Arkansas 1.1 0.5 36
**California 8.3 10.5 2
*Colorado 1.0 0.9 25
**Connecticut 1.4 2.4 12
*Delaware 0.2 0.4 39
**District of Columbia 0.5 2.0 16
*Florida 2.3 3.4 10
*Georgia 2.3 1.5 21
**Illinois 5.8 7.6 3
*Indiana 2.7 1.6 19
**Kansas 1.3 0.9 28
*Kentucky 1.9 1.3 23
*Louisiana 1.8 1.9 18
**Maryland 17 2.0 15
**Massachusetts 3.0 3.8 8
*Minnesota 2.0 2.0 17
*Missouri 2.6 2.4 13
*Nebraska 0.9 0.6 32
**Nevada 0.2 0.4 40
**New Jersey 3.3 4.8 6
**New Mexico 0.5 0.4 41
**New York 9.9 13.1 1
*North Dakota 0.4 0.3 44
*Rhode Island 0.5 0.6 33
*South Carolina 1.4 0.8 30
*South Dakota 0.4 0.3 42
*Tennessee 2.1 1.1 24
*Texas 5.5 3.5 9
*Wisconsin 2.3 2.2 14
Total (license) 68.0 73.7  

**Based on tax collections
*Based on gallon shipments to wholesalers

Table 3 –cont.

Monopoly states Per cent of total population of wet states Per cent of U.S. total consumption Rank in consumption
Alabama 1.9 1.0 26
Idaho 0.4 0.2 45
Iowa 1.7 0.8 29
Maine 0.6 0.5 35
Michigan 4.6 4.2 7
Montana 0.4 0.4 38
New Hampshire 0.4 0.5 34
North Carolina 2.7 1.6 20
Ohio 5.6 5.7 4
Oregon 1.1 0.9 27
Pennsylvania 6.7 4.9 5
Utah 0.5 0.3 43
Vermont 0.2 0.2 46
Virginia 2.2 2.7 11
Washington 1.6 1.4 22
West Virginia 1.2 0.8 31
Wyoming 0.2 0.2 47
Total (monopoly) 32.0 26.3  
Grand Total 100.0 100.0  

Source: The Distilled Spirits Industry — Annual Statistical Review (Washington: Distilled Spirits Institute, 1956), 39.

Location Near Churches and Schools

State laws commonly provide that licensed premises may not be located within a specified distance of schools, churches, playgrounds, or hospitals. One survey showed 31 states prescribing minimum distances from schools and all but six of these also limiting locations near churches.5

Some municipalities also have power to establish distance requirements. In Connecticut and Florida such requirements are frequently included in zoning ordinances. For example, the zoning ordinance of Farmington, Connecticut (1950) provides that no building may be used for the sale of alcoholic liquor within 500 feet of a lot used for a college, school, church, hospital, or library. Miami, Florida prohibits sale for on-premises consumption within 300 feet of the main entrance of a church or public school. Outside the primary fire zone, bars must be at least 1,000 feet from schools. Such ordinances sometimes prescribe the manner in which such distances are to be measured. Coral Gables, Florida (1957) provides:

No retail beverage store, retail package liquor store, retail liquor store, retail package beverage store or club vendor shall be established or opened upon premises closer than 300 feet from any church or school. Such distance shall be measured in the case of a church. by following the shortest route of ordinary pedestrian travel along the public thoroughfares from the main entrance of said place of business to the main entrance of the church, and, in the case of a school, by following the shortest route of ordinary pedestrian travel along the public thoroughfares from the main entrance of said place of business to the nearest point of the school grounds in use as part of the school facilities. A retail package beverage store may be established and opened within the distance prohibition area above described, only if such store is opened in conjunction with and as an integral part of the business of a merchant selling food and food products.

Distance requirements have frequently been upheld in these two states and in a few others as well. A 5,000-foot requirement was upheld in Rule v. Etowah, 263 S.W.2d 498 (Tenn. 1953), though it effectively prevented the sale of beer anywhere in the community. A state regulation may, however, occupy the field so that municipalities may not establish added requirements. A zoning ordinance provision prohibiting sale for on-premises consumption within one-half mile of a school and within 1,000 feet of a playground, hospital, church, synagogue, or children's home was held invalid on this ground in Grundman v. Town of Brighton, 166 N.Y.S.2d 55, 10 ZONING DIGEST 82 (N.Y.Sup.Ct. 1956).

Location Near Other Liquor Outlets

Only a few states require that liquor establishments be located at least a specified distance from similarly licensed premises. A number of municipalities impose such regulations, however, and in Connecticut and Florida these regulations are often included in zoning ordinances too. The town of Darien, Connecticut (1957) requires that package stores be at least 1,500 feet apart. Miami, Florida requires that licensed premises be 500 feet apart in the downtown area, 2,500 feet apart in the rest of the city.

There remain considerable doubts whether distance requirements are properly considered zoning regulations. The question has been raised a number of times by claims that such ordinances are invalid for failure to comply with procedural requirements established zoning enabling acts. An ordinance establishing minimum distances between licensed restaurants was held to be a zoning ordinance in State v. Payne, 41 A.2d 908 (Conn. 1944). But an ordinance prohibiting liquor establishments within 500 feet of schools and churches was held not to be subject to requirements of the zoning statute in Jones v. City of Sarasota, 89 So.2d 346, 9 ZD 12 (Fla. 1956).

Even when fixed distance requirements are not imposed, state or local authorities sometimes have discretionary authority to limit the number of licenses in an area. A subcommittee of the California legislature reported in 1954 that:

Too many bars have been licensed in concentrated areas [in several California cities]. This adds to the enforcement and policing problem and endangers the public welfare since many bars become resorts for narcotic peddlers, prostitutes and underworld characters. According to Los Angeles Police Chief William H. Parker, "As they attempt to compete with each other for the small amount of business there is down there, they have to start going over the shadow line in order to try to keep alive."6

The state alcoholic beverage control department has since refused all new licenses in several areas in which many liquor outlets are concentrated. In cooperation with local officials, the department has also been enforcing the laws governing existing licensed premises.7 The accompanying map illustrates the results of these campaigns in the Main Street area of Los Angeles.

In other states, too, officials have expressed concern over problems of concentration. Late in 1956, the city licensing board in Boston declared that no more licenses would be issued in the downtown shopping district.8 And Newark, New Jersey does not permit licensed premises to be moved more than 600 feet unless the new location is at least 1,000 feet from the nearest bar or package store.9 Concentration of liquor establishments has also been a problem in the Vieux Carré district of New Orleans. Efforts to preserve this historic district have taken account of the fact that the area is a center of the city's night life. Nevertheless, those interested in preservation supported an ordinance that makes the opening of new night spots more difficult.10

Number of Outlets

As shown in Table 2, 11 states, most of them in the South, do not permit sales for consumption on the premises.

Statutes in about a third of the states impose numerical limitations on the issuance of licenses. As usual, these limitations are far from uniform, but the number of outlets permitted in each municipality is most often dependent on its population. Roughly another third of the states explicitly empower a state agency to limit the number of licenses. Local governments are given such discretionary powers in a few states, and local ordinances limiting the total number of licenses are common in a number of states.

Limitations on the total number of licenses have sometimes caused hardship to licensees whose stores were in redevelopment or other clearance areas, In one city, no new retail licenses were being issued because a change in the law had reduced the number of licenses authorized below the number already issued. Some 20 store operators in one redevelopment area found that gradual clearance was driving away their customers and that relocation of the stores was extremely difficult. But an operator who went out of business until the area was rebuilt would then be unable to obtain a new license.11

Other Location Limitations

Another approach to the problem of locating licensed premises is to require that they all be located within specified boundaries. Such boundaries are sometimes established independent of ordinary zoning classifications or they may be coordinated with zoning requirements. The Kansas City liquor control ordinance provides that:

No unlimited sales-by-drink permit and license or no malt liquor sales-by-drink permit and license shall be issued to sell intoxicating liquor at any place except within the boundaries of the unrestricted district [which is then defined] . . . unless the main and principal entrance of the proposed location is on a street, all of the real estate on both sides of which and within the same block with the proposed location is zoned for Class U-3, U-4, U-5 or U-6 uses . . . and unless there shall first be obtained in writing, and filed with the application, the consent of the resident owners of 70 per cent of the real estate owned by such resident owners within a distance of two hundred feet of the proposed location. . . .

This type of restriction, too, may cause unusual problems in connection with redevelopment projects. One proposed redevelopment area contained 54 of the 299 licenses permitted in a city. Relocation was made nearly impossible by a provision in the 1887 city charter establishing the area within which premises might be licensed.12

Types of Establishments That May Be Licensed

Many state statutes also specify the type of retail establishments that may be licensed. Hotels, clubs, and restaurants may almost everywhere be licensed for on-premises consumption. Nineteen states either explicitly allow taverns, bars, or night clubs, or do not restrict the type of on-sale premises at all. Of the 30 states that regularly issue off-sale licenses, 13 do not license grocery stores and eight do not license drug stores.


Many zoning ordinances make explicit provision for liquor outlets, though a substantial number of cities appear to rely exclusively on separate liquor control ordinances and state requirements. As would be expected after an examination of the state laws, the specific requirements for liquor outlets in different zoning ordinances show even less similarity than is usual for other uses.

Package stores are often permitted in the most restricted business district. Bismarck, North Dakota (1953), Modesto, California (1957), and Du Page County, Illinois (1957) are among the many examples. It is also common, however, to exclude them from this district. Rockville, Maryland (1957), Chicago, Illinois (1957), and Kern County, California (1957) are in this group. The population served by the most restricted districts may have some influence on the decision to allow or exclude liquor stores. One study suggests that 1,100 families are ordinarily needed to support a store.13 The Chicago ordinance is one of the few that also excludes sale of package liquor by drug and grocery stores in the most restricted business district. It forbids the sale of any alcoholic beverages in B1 local retail districts.

Taverns and bars are commonly not permitted in the most restricted business district even when package stores are allowed. For example, Bismarck, North Dakota allows package stores and restaurants in its CA commercial zone, but taverns, saloons, and bars are permitted only in the CB zone along with bowling alleys, dance halls, and other private recreation activities, Albuquerque, New Mexico (1953) also permits bars only in its C2 commercial zone. As usual, there are also some contrary examples. Fort Wayne, Indiana (1955) permits package stores, taverns, and bars in the B1 district. A 1952 amendment to the Los Angeles County zoning ordinance added bars and cocktail lounges to the permitted uses in the C-1 restricted business district.

Sale of liquor for on-premises consumption in restaurants is also fairly regulated by zoning ordinances. Pomona, California (1957) allows in the C-2 neighborhood shopping center district "Restaurant, including Drive-ins, Tearoom, or Cafe, provided that no dancing, theatrical performance or entertainment of any nature be maintained or permitted therein or in connection therewith, and no liquor or alcoholic beverages shall be sold on the premises." These restrictions are not applied in the C-3 district. Fullerton and El Monte, California (both 1957) forbid the sale of liquor in restaurants in the C-1 limited commercial zone. Zoning ordinances that do not mention liquor in restaurants may nevertheless prohibit dancing and entertainment in restaurants in restricted zones, thus effectively excluding night clubs. Los Angeles (1955) permits "restaurant, tea room or cafe (excluding dancing or entertainment)" in the C1 limited commercial zone.

Special use permits are occasionally required for taverns. Du Page County, Illinois, which allows taverns by right in the B4 district, requires a special permit for them in the B2 district. Las Vegas, Nevada (1956) permits taverns, bars, and cabarets in a special commercial district. Special permits may also be issued, however, for these uses in the C-2 district, provided they are located in a hotel that has 50 or more guest rooms.

Roadside business districts are not especially appropriate locations for taverns. A few years ago, the Michigan State Highway Department studied the location of traffic accidents in relation to roadside businesses. In describing the results of the study, a department official concluded that "the findings indicate that in all sections of the study route, taverns are more closely associated with accidents than are any other of the features studied."14 Nevertheless, existing zoning ordinances do not appear to include any unusual restrictions on taverns along highways. The number of such outlets may be effectively limited, however, in the seven states that issue on-sale licenses only within incorporated municipalities.

As may be seen from Table 4, private clubs comprise a substantial percentage of the license holders in many jurisdictions. Zoning treatment of clubs has proved a difficult problem, especially in large cities. Some clubs are noisy, often late at night. They generate traffic and create parking problems. Nevertheless, they are frequently permitted in multiple-family residence zones.

Table 4

Club Licenses

State Total number on-premise outlets Number of clubs Club licenses as per cent of total on-premise
Alabama 512 166 32.4
Arizona 710 165 23.2
California 9,960 427 4.3
Colorado 1,434 185 12.9
Connecticut 2,723 670 24.6
Delaware 478 106 22.2
D. of C. 583 20 34.3
Florida 2,958 266 9.0
Georgia n.a. n.a. n.a.
Idaho 474    
Illinois n.a. n.a. n.a.
Indiana 3,270    
Kentucky 898 97 10.8
Louisiana 4,201    
Maine 265 79 29.8
Maryland 2,686 218 8.1
Massachusetts 5,235 1,140 21.8
Michigan 5,718 745 13.0
Minnesota 1,783 750 42.1
Missouri 3,056    
Montana 1,599    
Nebraska 774 28 3.6
Nevada 816    
New Hampshire 361 199 55.1
New Jersey 10,341 944 9.1
New Mexico 1,066 56 5.3
New York 23,243 1,536 6.6
North Carolina      
North Dakota 890 101 11.3
Ohio 8,990 1,328 14.8
Oregon 783 140 17.9
Pennsylvania 20,587 4,396 21.4
Rhode Island 1,516 318 21.0
South Carolina      
South Dakota 348 29 21.0
Vermont 386 107 27.7
Washington 724 247 34.1
West Virginia      
Wisconsin 12,247   n.a.
Wyoming 514 100 19.5

Source: Licensed Beverage Industries, Inc., 155 East 44th Street, New York, 1957.

When such preferential treatment is given to "clubs," it is important that this term be carefully defined to exclude businesses. Such definitions are included in liquor statutes or regulations in a number of states. The following definition is from the Chicago zoning ordinance.

A "private club or lodge" is a non-profit association of persons who are bona fide members paying annual dues, which owns, hires or leases a building, or portion thereof, the use of such premises being restricted to members and their guests. The affairs and management of such "private club or lodge" are conducted by a board of directors, executive committee, or similar body chosen by the members at their annual meeting. It shall be permissible to serve food and meals on such premises providing adequate dining room space and kitchen facilities are available. The sale of alcoholic beverages to members and their guests shall be allowed provided it is a secondary and incidental to the promotion of some other common objective by the organization, and further provided that such sale of alcoholic beverages is in compliance with the applicable Federal, State and Municipal laws.

Some ordinances require clubs to provide side yards that are wider than those required for residential buildings. Special use permits may also be required. Los Angeles permits clubs without restrictions in the C1 limited commercial zone. In the R5 multiple dwelling zone, however, the combined widths of side yards on interior lots must total not less than 40 per cent of the width of the lot, though the total need not exceed 50 feet. Seattle (1957) requires a special permit and 20-foot side yards for clubs in the RM multiple residence zone. A similar set of requirements is imposed in the Kettering, Ohio ordinance.

Parking space needs of clubs are often high. The Highway Research Board has recommended that clubs be required to provide one parking space for every two active members, in addition to one space for every two employees.15 Requirements imposed by existing ordinances are not usually so high. For example, Princeton Township, New Jersey (1955) requires a space for every four members and Easton, Pennsylvania (1949) requires one for every five members.

The liquor control statutes in only 11 states and the District of Columbia specify that licensed premises must be located in compliance with local zoning ordinances.16 Even without such statutes, however, zoning regulations for taverns and package stores are given effect. An ordinance that listed 75 permitted uses in the B-business district but listed taverns only in the C-business district was upheld in Saladino v. City of South Beloit, 137 N.E.2d 364, 8 ZD 274 (Ill. 1956). And in King v. Kendrick, 90 So. 2d 88, 9 ZD 16 (Ala. 1956), sale of beer in a commercial district without a required use permit was enjoined, although the seller had a state license. The court reasoned that zoning and liquor regulation are independent of each other and that both sets of requirements must be satisfied.

In State ex rel. Barnett v. Sappington, 266 S.W.2d 774, 6 ZD 134 (Mo.App. 1954), this reasoning was applied to prevent the sale of liquor in a drug store. Though the liquor regulations would have permitted such sales, the permissive zoning ordinance was interpreted to exclude them. The converse situation arose in Primm v. Reno, 252 P.2d 835, 5 ZD 103 (Nev. 1953). The court there held that a city may refuse to issue a liquor license even though the zoning ordinance permits the location in question to be used for a bar.

Proposals to sell liquor in nonconforming restaurants and beer taverns have given rise to several court cases. The issue in most of them is whether sale of liquor by a nonconforming restaurant or of spirits by a nonconforming tavern that formerly sold only beer or wine amounts to an extension or change of the nonconforming use. Following the decisions just mentioned, it might be argued that this zoning question should be answered when possible by reference to the zoning ordinance rather than the liquor laws. If an ordinance allows restaurants that do not sell liquor in one zone and puts those that do sell it in a "lower" zone, addition of a new license by a nonconforming restaurant is clearly a change to a "lower" use. In the many ordinances that do not make such a distinction, however, the effect of the new license is less clear. In interpreting ordinances that allow changes to other uses of the same class but forbid all extensions, one must beware of the anomaly of allowing a nonconforming grocery store to change to a restaurant selling spirits and at the same time not allowing an existing restaurant to extend itself by selling spirits.

Whatever theoretical problems may be raised by these arguments, the courts have several times refused to allow the addition of new licenses. In reaching this result, they sometimes explicitly apply the classifications established by the liquor laws. For example, in Salerni v. Scheuy, 102 A.2d 528, 6 ZD 97 (Conn. 1954), the court held that a nonconforming tavern could not sell spirits in addition to the beer that it had previously sold. In its opinion the court made the following statements.

It is a general principle in zoning that nonconforming uses should be abolished or reduced to conformity as quickly as the fair interest of the parties will permit. In no case should they be allowed to increase. . . . The difference between the sale of beer only in a restaurant and the sale of all liquors therein is so great that our law requires a different permit from the liquor control commission for each of the two kinds of business. The fee charged for a permit to sell all kinds of liquor in a restaurant is much larger than for a permit to sell beer only. The reason for this must be either that the legislature believed that a restaurant selling all liquors would ordinarily do a different kind of business or that it was contemplated that it would cost more to police it.

A similar result was reached in Town Council of Los Gatos v. State Board of Equalization, 296 P. 2d 909, 8 ZD 176 (Cal.App. 1956).

A nonconforming restaurant was not allowed to begin selling beer in Fulford v. Board of Zoning Adjustment of Dothan, 54 So.2d 580, 4 ZD 19 (Ala. 1951). The court said that the sale of beer would be an unlawful extension. A similar case is Appeal of Veltri, 49 A.2d 369 (Pa. 1946). In City of Dallas v. Haworth, 218 S.W.2d 264 (Tex.Civ.App. 1949) a restaurant had become nonconforming in 1929. After the repeal of prohibition, an amendment to the ordinance allowed nonconforming restaurants to obtain annual beer and wine permits. The city having since repealed this amendment, the court held that the restaurant had no further right to sell beer and wine.

A different approach was taken by the court in Appeal of Sawdey, 85 A.2d 28, 4 ZD 74 (Pa. 1951). Despite a zoning ordinance provision banning liquor sales in the zone in question, the court held that a hotel under construction when the ordinance was passed was entitled to a liquor license. In the course of the opinion, the court stated that "a municipality may not in the guise of a zoning ordinance regulate the business of dispensing liquor." Though other courts have occasionally taken this position, the statement should probably be limited to unusual controls imposed only on the liquor business for reasons unrelated to zoning. As it has been seen, even these are sometimes accepted. Almost always, zoning may control the business of dispensing liquor in the same ways it controls other businesses.


Problems posed by liquor outlets are seldom serious ones for planning officials. When they arise, however, they are sometimes difficult to solve because of legal complexities and uncertainties. This general description of the more familiar types of regulations applied to liquor outlets is intended to provide background information that will make such problems easier to understand.


1. Virgil Peterson, "Vitalizing Liquor Control," Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, vol. 40 (July–August 1949), 119.

2. Summary of State Laws and Regulations Relating to Distilled Spirits, 14th ed. (Washington: Distilled Spirits Institute, 1957), 68. This is the most useful single source of information on state liquor laws.

3. Brewers Almanac 1957 (New York: United States Brewers Foundation, 1957), 108.

4. Peterson, 129–30.

5. Alcoholic Beverage Control (Cleveland: The Joint Committee of the States to Study Alcoholic Beverage Laws, 1950), 103.

6. Alcoholic Beverage Control in California, Report of the Subcommittee on Alcoholic Beverage Control to the 1954 Special Session of the California Legislature, 34.

7. California's New Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, A Report of the Assembly Interim Committee on Government Organization to the California Legislature (1957).

8. Bethune Jones, "Beverage Control Law Trends in the States," From the State Capitals (January 1957), 3.

9. Jones (June 1957), 4.

10. Jacob H. Morrison, Historic Preservation Law (New Orleans: Pelican Publishing Co., 1957), 102.

11. Washington Post and Times-Herald, February 22, 1955.

12. Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, September 11, 1955.

13. "Twenty-Five Kinds of Business and Number of Families Needed to Support," Changing Times (May 1953), as reprinted in Community Builders Handbook (Washington: Urban Land Institute, 1954), 168.

14. Carl McMonagle, "Traffic Accidents and Roadside Features," Land Acquisition and Control of Adjacent Area, Highway Research Board Bulletin No. 55 (Washington, 1952), 47.

15. David R. Levin, "Requirements for Off-Street Automobile Parking Facilities in Zoning and Other Local Ordinances," Zoning for Parking Facilities, Highway Research Board Bulletin No. 24.

16. Alcoholic Beverage Control, 103.