Kent City Council approved its first TREX liquor license transfer application in committee Wednesday night for Twisted Root Cellars, an establishment neighboring the Kent Stage billed as "an upscale wine bar."
The 7-2 vote, with Councilman John Kuhar and Councilwoman Tracy Wallach opposed, came after more than an hour of discussion that focused not only on the prospect of the wine bar and what it could add to Kent, but also on the "high bar" guidelines Kent set in September 2012 for transferring new liquor licenses into the city through the new TREX process.
TREX is a process through the Ohio Department of Liquor Control -- approved by the Ohio Legislature in mid-2012 -- that allows surplus liquor licenses to transfer from one community to another.
Kent's current guidelines require at least 4,000 square feet of dining space, a $750,000 investment and alcohol sales exceeding no more than 25 percent of total businesses, but allow council to grant a variance if it deems a proposal appropriate for the city. The idea behind the guidelines at the time was to bring in positive economic development and avoid creating bars that could burden police and fire, but in March, council and staff began a discussion to retool those guidelines after a handful of potential applicants came to the city, none of which met the guidelines.
Kuhar and Wallach said their "no" votes weren't cast in opposition to Twisted Root Cellars, co-owned by Gary Gardner, Patrick Madonio and Chris Copley. Instead, they said they didn't want to approve any TREX transfers before the city hammered out revised guidelines to bring new licenses into Kent.
In order to protect the liquor license from changing hands to ownership that could potentially becoming a nuisance if Twisted Root Cellars fails, Councilman Garret Ferrara added the stipulation that council has the authority to approve any change of ownership the liquor license could undergo.
Gardner told council Twisted Root Cellars had no objection to negotiating an economic development agreement with the city to ensure liquor license didn't wind up becoming a nuisance.
He said the wine bar, which will be able to accommodate a maximum of 50 people, is intended for adults in the Kent and surrounding communities who dont' want a college bar setting.
"We enjoy adult conversations, and arguing over the best wines and wineries," Gardner said, adding that Kent has enough college bars, but not enough for adults. "Clearly there's an under-served adult population in the city."
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