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Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009 11:35 pm

Alderman attacks drive-up liquor windows

Zoning panel approves ordinance, sends it to city council

There are fewer than 10 liquor stores with drive-up windows in Springfield.

In the early ’90s as a lobbyist for Autosense International, Sam Cahnman had state legislation introduced requiring second-time DUI offenders to install breath-alcohol ignition interlock devices in their vehicles. In 1999, he lobbied to expand the mandate to first-time offenders and applauded the state for implementing the legislation earlier this year.

Now Cahnman, the alderman who represents Ward 5, wants to fight drunk driving on the local level. In October he introduced a petition to exclude packaged liquor sales at all new drive-up windows. The measure was approved 9-1 by the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission last week and it now heads to the city council for consideration at its Feb. 17 meeting.

“When I was on the county board, I was on the liquor committee, and whenever a permit request came before us, if it included a drive-up window, I always voted against it,” Cahnman says. “There’s not a lot that the city can do as a government against drunk driving. It’s a problem that’s in the purview of the state legislature, but the one thing we can do is stop the expansion of these drive-up liquor windows.”

Cahnman says national statistics show that offenders who bought liquor at drive-up windows were more likely to have been drinking in their vehicles prior to arrest than those who bought liquor at a convenience or grocery store. In addition to making drinking and driving more likely, Cahnman says, drive-up windows facilitate higher occurrences of underage drinking.

“It’s much more difficult for the merchant to see who’s making the purchase — they’re sitting down, so you don’t get as good of a view of them as compared to when they’re standing up in front of you at the counter,” he says. “Or it could be a person who’s legitimately 21 and able to buy alcohol, but they have friends that are 17, 18, 19 in the car and they buy booze for everybody.”

Since the ordinance, if approved, will alter the Springfield zoning code, it must be “grandfathered-in,” meaning that existing drive-up windows will not be required to comply with new regulations. Ernie Slottag, the city communications director, says there are more than 270 establishments that sell or distribute liquor in Springfield, and fewer than 10 offer drive-up windows.

Cahnman says the point of the ordinance isn’t to impose restrictions on current businesses, but to prevent others from opening more drive-up windows in the future.

The most effective way to deal with the problem, he adds, would be for the state legislature to pass a law prohibiting these outlets. Twenty-seven other states have approved similar legislation.

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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