What Does “Public Need” for a Liquor License Mean?

By John P. Connell, Esq., Law Offices of John P. Connell, P.C.

Did you know that sometimes, in order to get a liquor license for a location not previously licensed, you have to demonstrate “public need?” Several factors go into assessing public need, and it’s good to keep them in mind.
The “public need” standard is one way for local licensing authorities to ensure liquor licenses are placed in neighborhoods where there aren’t already an abundance of bars, restaurants, or package stores. But how do the liquor licensing authorities decide whether the public need standard is met?
What happens when some community members oppose a newly-licensed establishment in their neighborhood, while other community members express support?


Understanding the Factors at Play


Liquor licensing authorities look at the number of pre-existing licenses in the proposed area, the traffic and noise in the area, the opinions of the neighborhood, and the overall reputation of the applicant. Liquor licensing authorities have the discretion to “exercise judgment about public convenience and public good that is very broad, but is not untrammeled.”

When liquor licensing authorities deny a transfer or grant of a license, they must be able to back up their denial with evidential support. If not, the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission can overrule it, if the license applicant decides to appeal.


What Are “Neighborhood Opinions”?


Although a neighborhood’s opinions and concerns regarding a license applicant are relevant, standing alone, they’re insufficient for denial of an application. At a license applicant’s hearing (where the licensing board votes to deny or grant a license), testimony by locals isn’t enough evidence for an application denial. Similarly, testimonials from locals, like concern about parking and traffic issues, has to be consistent with the liquor licensing authorities’ own findings.
In other words, the liquor licensing authorities can’t just deny a license on the basis of a few vocal opponents, without independent findings that there’s no public need.


How to Troubleshoot Ahead of Time


The liquor licensing authorities have to have sufficient evidence to support their decision. So, a license applicant’s good standing and overall reputation in the community will help the process of gaining the liquor licensing authorities’ approval. Therefore, a license applicant should try to show a demand for a liquor license at their proposed location with supportive speakers, political or neighborhood representatives, or other means of evidence. You should also be prepared to show there is a plan to handle parking and traffic, as well as other concerns. Mostly importantly, a license applicant should reach out to the community before the hearing to address any concerns raised by neighbors.
To put it simply, don’t just show up to the hearing and hope for the best. Prepare, reach out to the community, and you’ll have the evidence you need to convince the liquor licensing authorities there is a need for your license.