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The Effect of the 200 Foot Rule on New York Liquor Licenses

When applying for a liquor license in New York, there are several rules or considerations that must be followed.  One of these is the "200 Foot Rule" where the applicant's establishment must not be within 200 feet of a school, church, synagogue, mosque, or other place of worship. In this article, we discuss several considerations concerning the "200 Foot Rule" including how to measure the distance, how corner locations are interpreted, the grandfather clause, and determining if a building is exclusively used as a school or place of worship.

Measurement of Distance

The measurement of this distance is of paramount importance, particularly within the New York City metro area, where these restrictions are often the basis for the denial of a liquor license application.  The measurement must be taken in a straight line from the center of the nearest main entrance of the school/place of worship to the center of the nearest main entrance of the establishment.  If a door or entrance is not a normal entrance, such as a fire exit or maintenance door, then it is not used in the measurement.

Corner Locations

If the establishment or the school/place of worship is on a corner, it is considered to be on both streets for purposes of the 200 foot rule, regardless of whether it has doorways or addresses on both streets. Furthermore, the establishment and the school/place of worship do not have to be on the same block.  Stated differently, where the establishment or school/place of worship is on a corner, the applicant should look 200 feet to both streets in each direction.

The "Grandfather Clause"

Normally if a location that has been licensed to sell liquor is found to be in violation of the 200 foot rule its license must be revoked when it's license comes up for renewal.  However, there are several exceptions. One is for establishments in operation since December 5th, 1933. Another is if the liquor establishment was in operation before the school or place of worship. A hotel that holds a restaurant liquor license may apply for a hotel liquor license. There are a few other instances where a Grandfather Clause may be considered to be in effect.

"Exclusive Use" As A School/Place of Worship

While the law uses the phrase "building used exclusively" as a school/place of worship when referencing the 200 foot rule, the courts have adopted a test that looks to whether the building is used primarily as a school/place of worship.  In 2007, the 200 foot rule was amended to clarify that the use of a building for certain purposes would be considered incidental to its primary use as a place of worship. Those uses include, but are not limited to, the use of the building for: (1) the conduct of games of chance, such as bingo, (2) fund-raising performance, (3) social activities, (4) mental and physical health counseling, and (5) health related promotional activities.

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