Council grants liquor license

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County: Local code leaves too much to interpretation

By Carol A. Clark

When it comes to liquor licenses, all is well when business operators, despite vagaries in the code, conduct themselves responsibly. County councilors found this to be the case with Ron and Olha Dolin of Don Quixote Distillery & Winery in White Rock and approved their request for a new liquor license.

Despite this approval, the council, county staff and counsel wrestled during Monday night’s special council session with what to do about the code as written because it leaves too much to interpretation.

The Dolins have operated within the spirit of the code without any problems since opening their business nine years ago. The trouble begins when an “unscrupulous” business operator comes into play.

The local code permits home occupations as accessory uses to the residential uses in Residential-Agricultural zones, which is the zoning in Pajarito Acres in White Rock where the Dolins live and operate their craft distillery and boutique winery business.

“The whole Happy Hour demographic is not our demographic – they don’t spend money and they linger,” Ron Dolin said. “Our average customer spends $50 and that is who we want to keep.”
Olha Dolin told the councilors that, “The kind of people who go visit a bar are not the people we want sitting around our house.”

Acting County Administrator Randy Autio advised councilors to “decide the Dolin’s application on the facts you have before you and later look at the issue to prohibit a full-fledged bar in a residential neighborhood.”

Acting County Attorney Brian James said, “Selling alcohol by the glass – for me – sounds like a bar … We have three questions we have to answer to the state: Are the premises within 300 feet of a church or school, is it a permitted use and would granting the license affect the morals and health of the county.”

James suggested that council fix the code before proceeding to approve the Dolin’s request for a new liquor license.

The Dolin’s said they can’t wait. Their license expires June 30, 2012 and the new license will allow them to expand to two off site locations. They already rented the Line Camp in Pojoaque and they are in negotiations to open a microbrewery/restaurant in Red River.

The Dolin’s business at 236 Rio Bravo is a craft distillery and boutique winery specializing in limited production, high quality spirits, ports and wines. They make the world’s only blue corn vodka and gin using New Mexico juniper, pinon, chamisa, sage and rose hips.

“If we don’t get the license, we will move the business to Santa Fe County … we will start that process tomorrow,” Ron Dolin said.

County staff had recommended that council deny the Dolin’s request because it was in conflict with the code. Councilor David Izraelevitz spoke to the code as written and said he could not support granting the license at this time.

Council Vice Chair Ron Selvage moved to approve the license saying, “And people wonder why we don’t have new businesses in Los Alamos.”Ron and Olha Dolin of Don Quixote Distillery and Winery in White Rock and approved their request for a new liquor license.

Chiravalle said the council should strive not to be an impediment to business.

“This is not a case where beers and Budweisers and Heinekens and happy hours are going to take place every night,” he said.

The county approved the Dolin’s original license request nine years ago before changes occurred in the code and with the state.

“Whether we were right or whether we were wrong, I think we have to be consistent,” Councilor Fran Berting said. “The fact that we haven’t gotten any complaints is important, but we have to be consistent.”
Councilor Geoff Rodgers complimented the Community Development Department staff on their grappling with the state’s new law, which complicates the local code.

“Granting the Dolin’s request for a new license will not substantially change what they’re doing now but it will open a can of worms …,” Rodgers said.

Council Chair Sharon Stover has visited the Dolin’s operation and said that she appreciated what they are doing.

The motion to approve the Dolin’s new liquor license passed 5-1. Councilor Mike Wismer was absent.