Steamboat Springs City Council approved the location of a new liquor license for a planned store inside the Highmark building, which is located across the street from the Market on the Mountain. More than 90 people signed a petition against the location of the business.

Photo by John F. Russell

Steamboat Springs City Council approved the location of a new liquor license for a planned store inside the Highmark building, which is located across the street from the Market on the Mountain. More than 90 people signed a petition against the location of the business.

Steamboat Springs City Council approves controversial liquor license in resort area


— In one of the most contentious liquor license hearings in this city's history, the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night cleared the way for a new liquor store and deli to open across the street from Market on the Mountain.

Citizens Hall felt like a courtroom during the 1 1/2-hour hearing as a lawyer representing the landlords for Market on the Mountain said the city should deny the liquor application because the market already was serving the liquor needs in Steamboat's resort area.

David Sypert, the manager of what will be SBS Village Liquor, countered that his store will be different as it will feature a climate-controlled wine cellar and weekly wine tastings during the winter.

Sypert said the store, with 6,000 square feet of space in the Highmark Building on Village Drive, also will support 10 year-round jobs, 20 to 25 seasonal jobs and generate an estimated $200,000 per year in local, state and county sales taxes.

But not everyone was on board with the new store in the neighborhood.

A petition against it was signed by more than 90 residents.

The council also received six letters, all with the same wording, from people who opposed the new liquor store.

The community members who penned the letters said they were concerned “about the over saturation of alcohol in our community and the close proximity of the applicant's store to already existing establishments.”

After more than 90 minutes of tedious debate, some cross-examination of witnesses and many objections from the people who were against the new business, the council voted, 5-1, to approve the license.

“I don't think it's our role to say this business succeeds and this one doesn't,” council member Scott Ford said before he supported the application. “I don't want to be picking winners and losers.”

Other council members said the competition could be healthy.

Kenny Reisman was the only council member to vote against the application, saying there wasn't an identified need for a new liquor store in the area.

Bart Kounovsky stepped down before the debate because of a potential conflict of interest.

The city's rules for liquor licenses require the applicant to prove there is a need for a new liquor store.

Sypert submitted 49 valid signatures from people who were in support of the store.

SBS Liquors will be the third liquor store near the base of Steamboat Ski Area, joining Market on the Mountain and Ski Town Wine and Spirits near The Steamboat Grand.

Before the liquor license is finalized, approval must be given by the Steamboat Springs Police Department, the fire marshal and the city clerk.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10.

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Dan Hill 3 years, 5 months ago

Good decision. Scott Ford said it all, it's not the City's role to be picking winners and losers. It's especially true in a resort community. You don't create a world class resort experience by protecting incumbent business, allowing them to coast along...


Scott Wedel 3 years, 5 months ago

I find it interesting how government can have a hearing on a specific situation and decide that their current laws are not well worded and then decide to keep the laws the same.

It is ridiculous for the city's liquor laws to say a new establishment needs to prove there is a need for a new liquor store. If the city were to strictly adhere to that wording then there is a proven need for one store and no more liquor licenses should be issued.

It is obvious that for many years that liquor stores have been allowed to open without clear proof of a need. The city council and planning board should modify the liquor law to maybe prevent a small low rent store intending to just sell cheap beer and encourage higher quality stores selling diverse better products.


Scott Ford 3 years, 5 months ago

Hi Scott W. – As a new member to City Council I feel like I am drinking from a fire hose because I am learning so many things in a short period of time. One thing I have learned is when is City Council not City Council.

City Council is not City Council when it acts in the capacity of the Steamboat Springs Liquor Licensing Authority. Although we all sit in the same place – we officially adjourn one meeting as City Council and start another as the Steamboat Springs Liquor Licensing Authority.

In the capacity of the “Licensing Authority” we are no longer Citizen Legislators but take on a “quasi-judicial” role. In this “quasi-judicial” capacity we are obliged to ascertain facts and draw conclusions from them as the foundation for official actions. Testimony is given under oath and the Licensing Authority makes a judgment based on documents & testimony.

In the state of Colorado to obtain a retail liquor license has two levels. The first step is getting approval by the local Licensing Authority. The criteria for this local approval is established by the state of Colorado. The criteria cannot be changed by the local Licensing Authority; their role is to determine (judge) based on the documents & testimony if the criteria have been met.

In some towns such as Fort Collins the Municipal Judge acts in the capacity of the Local Licensing Authority.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 5 months ago

Scott F.

Yes, the city council acts in a quasi judicial capacity when considering land use applications and liquor licensing. So yes, during the hearing you all were constrained to make a judgment on the application as to how it relates to existing law.

But my point is that so often in that role that the quasi judicial discussion will mention how the current rules are not well written and yet there will be no followup to change the rules prior to the next liquor licensing or land use meeting so that they will be making decisions based upon more clearly written rules.

Obviously, the standard of proof for allowing a new liquor store is not "beyond a reasonable doubt" since it is obviously doubtful that, strictly speaking, more than one liquor store is needed in SB. It has not even been "a preponderance of the evidence". It has probably been closer to "does the applicant believe there is a need?".

So did city council afterwards task the city manager to propose better liquor licensing wording?


Stuart Orzach 3 years, 5 months ago

Thank you, Scott Ford, for educating the public about how the City Council, acting as the Liquor Licensing Authority, performs its legal function within the constraints of State law. I hope and trust that you will continue to bring greater transparency to the operations of this City.

I am curious, though, how the State defines "need" and why there is a need for even one liquor store. Could you elaborate on the State's criteria for determining "need"?

Also, Scott, could you explain the basis for Mr. Sypert's claims concerning adding new jobs and additional tax revenue. Did he present evidence to demonstrate that the new store will increase demand for liquor, not just siphon that demand from existing liquor stores, or for that matter, from any other business where people might spend those dollars?


Scott Wedel 3 years, 5 months ago

I looked at the packet for the meeting.

Liquor licenses for restaurants also have to state on their application that local needs are not being met. The evidence of that appears to be the applicant has signatures on a petition saying that their needs are not being met.

As for the benefits to tax revenues, the owner of the new store pretty much has to believe it in order to have a viable business model. That is not a low rent building and he isn't going to survive being the cheapest source of Thunderbird The store pretty much has to be able to sell nice bottles of wine to be viable.


Scott Ford 3 years, 5 months ago

Stuart & Scott W – I think you nailed it (Scott W.) – “does the applicant think there is a need?” If we were talking about coffee shops and a new coffee shop was going to open across the street from an existing coffee shop – would that be OK? Should for example the County Building Department refuse to issue them a building permit on the grounds that folks felt that there were way too many coffee shops in the area? I think we would agree that it would be reasonable to expect that the owner of this hypothetical existing coffee shop would say that there are more than enough shops meeting the needs of the coffee drinking population in their neighborhood. In addition, the folks that buy coffee every morning at this hypothetical existing coffee shop agreed to signed a petition saying that their coffee drinking needs were being adequately met. There are a couple of key questions associated with this opinion. Are those that signed the petition a randomly selected sampling of the population in the area that accurately reflects the total population in the area? Who knows? Are there folks, that are living in the area, would prefer another alternative for whatever reason. Again, who knows? Without question liquor store license is different from most situations one encounters in business. I am not sure why liquor stores are treated different than a coffee shops but they are. Likely it has something to do with alcohol because as a substance “alcohol” likely results in more mischief than “caffeine” and therefore there is an underlying concern that it is possible to have too many liquor stores in a community.
That may be why the state law requires us to decide, as subjective as it may be, as to whether the “reasonable requirements of the neighborhood are being met by the existing outlets” and “what are the desires of the adult inhabitants.” We were presented with a good deal of evidence that many people thought the existing outlet, there may be a second one in the Steamboat Grand, was not meeting the needs, particularly when we are reminded that our community swells to over 30,000 people, most concentrated at the base of the mountain, during certain times of the year. As messy as business can be sometimes – the best outcomes can arise if market forces are allowed to sort things out.

Scott W. - Let me think about the issued you raised in your last post and get back to you


Kristi Brown 3 years, 5 months ago

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the average county in Colorado has 24 liquor stores per 100,000 residents According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the City had an estimated 12,029 residents in 2012 ( Doing the math, one would expect the City of Steamboat Springs to contain fewer than 3 liquor stores to adequately meet the needs of the resident population. In the very high season when the population swells for short periods of time to nearly 30,000 people, we would need 7 liquor stores. The City reports 11 licensed liquor stores plus several supermarkets that sell beer.

No reasonable person could conclude that the existing liquor stores are not meeting the needs of this community, this is an underserved neighborhood or an underserved community. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Another quick reasonable test would have been for each Council member to ask him/herself whether there has ever been an occasion when they have wanted to purchase alcohol (a good bottle of wine, a special brand of spirits, a favorite beer) and been unable to find what exactly what they were looking for. No need for more liquor stores.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 5 months ago

SB also has far more restaurants than the average Colorado city of a similar size.

Thus, the above is a nice demonstration of how to use statistics to draw misleading conclusions.


Scott Wedel 3 years, 5 months ago

I suspect the "prove a need" requirement is intended to deal with the situation of neighborhoods that have issues of alcoholics and homelessness. And so an application for another liquor store could be denied. by locals in the community arguing there is not a need.

Alcohol is one of those rare businesses which is both socially accepted and there is a significant abuse problem. Thus, a store selling quality products can be considered a community asset and ones selling the cheapest way to get drunk are a detriment.


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