With the mayor and her tie-breaking vote absent, it came down to the final vote of the 16-member Wauwatosa Common Council on whether a liquor store would be allowed to open a bar inside its premises.
That last vote Tuesday night created an 8-8 tie, which under the municipal code is the same as a defeat. Tosa Wine and Spirits, 11747 W. North Ave., will not be selling beer, wine and liquor by the drink.
Unless she had undergone an unlikely change of heart, Mayor Jill Didier's deciding vote would not have changed that outcome — she was on record strongly opposing the conditional use request from the store's owner, Harneet Kaur. And had even one vote gone a different way, her vote would not have been enough to change the outcome.
But the tally ended up much closer than had been predicted by several aldermen who said last week that the resolution would be defeated by several votes.
Kaur opened his business only a year ago, and under the conditional use permit he was granted then, he could sell only packaged goods. But he came back to the city, saying that business was not what he had hoped it would be, and he needed the attraction of a small bar area to sell samples of his goods to entice customers to buy.
The Plan Commission, first to hear the request, gave it a poor reception, especially from Didier. But when the proposal landed in the Community Development Committee, it was approved 6-2 and forwarded to the full council, where it was debated and sent back again, only to be approved again 5-2.
The sense of the majority of those on the development committee was to help a small business succeed, but an equal number of aldermen on the full council saw a host of pitfalls.
The most vexing worry was that in the case of a tavern permit, the city's own conditional use controls were virtually meaningless. The state controls the hours of operation of taverns, and so the city would have to take it on faith that the bar would be open only until 9 p.m., the mandated time when package liquor can be sold.
City Attorney Alan Kesner had told the council that no matter what the city's conditional use permit said – and it would have limited the bar to a 9 p.m. closing – there would be nothing the city could do to enforce those conditions if the owner decided to ignore them.
Alds. Cheryl Berdan and Don Birschel, who both represent the affected district, were both opposed to the request.
Berdan said she shopped at the store and supported it as a good neighborhood business as it was, but issues of parking, children taking music lessons at the next door White House of Music and the residential character of the neighborhood left her against the presence of a bar.
Birschel was somewhat less equivocal.
"We're relying on (Kaur) keeping his word, and he has already demonstrated that he has not kept his word," Birschel said. "We gave a permit for a high-end wine store – then came the liquor.
"He promised he would not undercut prices on his competitors ... and he did.
"When we have business that puts the city of Wauwatosa at a disadvantage, we cannot take anyone's word."
Among those siding with Kaur was Ald. Jacqueline Jay of the 3rd District, who said, "Businesses need to change their plans. If it's a bad business plan, he's not going to be in business much longer."
Jay also raised the sticky issue of the permit granted to in the Village, which sells wine by the bottle and also sells mixed drinks and wine by the glass and beer by the bottle.
While some council members have argued that Vino 100 had already set a precedent for allowing tavern privileges to a package store, an equal number cited the precedent that permitting Tosa Wine and Spirits would create in allowing any package store to open a bar on premises.
Village plan approved
In other business, the council approved unanimously and without debate the , an ambitious, $82 million long-range vision for a realigned Village streetscape, as part of the city's comprehensive development plan.
The Village Plan envisions realigned streets, improved traffic patterns and pedestrian-friendly amenities in a district stretching from the Village proper all along West State Street to North 60th Street.
Only a fraction of the price tag involves public expenditures; the lion's share of the total includes predicted private investment in the area.