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In order to sell alcohol in Florida, there are two requirements that must be met:

  1. Permission from the local government – county or city
  2. A license from the State of Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco

In Florida, there are a variety of ways that local governments control the sale of alcoholic beverages. This control is primarily exercised through their zoning codes. Approval to sell is typically granted if the property is zoned commercial and meets certain distance separation requirements that are established to presumably ensure that no adverse impacts occur on surrounding areas resulting from the sale of alcohol. These separation requirements are typically in the range of 250 feet to 1,000 feet from residentially zoned or institutional uses (such as schools, parks, day cares, and governmentally owned property), and that the property is also a certain distance (often as far as 1,000 feet) from other establishments authorized by the local government to sell alcohol.

Although some local governments allow the sale of alcohol through an “over the counter” administrative process, the vast majority require an approval from the governing council, commission, planning board or hearing officer delegated authority to approve the sale of alcoholic beverages. These forms of approval generally require a rezoning of the property, or a zoning special use permit, which is also known in some jurisdictions as a “conditional use” or “special exception.” Approval through the special use permit provides broad discretion to the local governments to impose certain limitations on the permit to ensure that the sale is compatible with the surrounding area.

These permits can only be approved through an oftentimes tedious, lengthy and costly public hearing process. For example, the City of Tampa, Florida’s alcoholic beverage special use process requires a $2,100.00 application fee, along with costly surveys, site plans, traffic studies, architectural elevations, identification of institutional uses, and residential uses and their respective owners. The process also requires that two public hearings be held before the Tampa City Council and typically takes from 4 to 5 months. Typical conditions may be limiting the hours of operation, types of alcoholic beverages that may be sold, outdoor music and activities, lighting and parking.

Most importantly, the distance separation required can only be waived through the permit process. Notably, the Division of Alcoholic Beverages through Section 562.14, Florida Statutes, limits the sale of alcoholic beverages to between midnight and 7:00 a.m. the following day. However, Section 562.45(2)(a), Florida Statutes, delegates authority to local governments to control the hours of operation through enactment of a local ordinance, and they typically allow sales to occur until 3:00 a.m. The government may also regulate the type of entertainment and conduct that may occur at any business that is licensed by the Division.

Furthermore, Section 562.45(2)(a), Florida Statutes, prohibits the sale of alcohol for a business (such as a bar) that allows for “on premises consumption” if the business is located within 500 feet of a private or public school. This separation requirement may, however, be waived by a local government if it is demonstrated that the sale of alcohol promotes the public health, safety, and welfare of the community. However, this waiver process must be approved through a public hearing process that allows neighbors and other interested parties to participate and voice their objections.

The most flexible state license is the 4-COP. This license allows for the unrestricted sale of beer, wine and liquor. The 4-COP is known as a “quota license,” and is a very limited commodity. Their number is based on the population and growth in any Florida County. Any increase in the population of a county by 7,500 new residents authorizes the creation of a new quota license. Being a commodity, a business may only obtain a 4-COP by either buying an existing license on the open market, or entering the quota drawing to win the right to apply for the quota license. The purchase price on the open market is dictated by supply and demand.

In 2016 the Florida Legislature enacted some major changes to the state restaurant (SRX) license requirements eliminating the requirement that full course meals be made available at all times alcohol is being sold. This has made the SRX a more viable, and less expensive option for businesses that may not be considered restaurants, but whose gross sales consist of 51 percent of food and non-alcoholic beverages.

Our firm has substantial experience in dealing with alcoholic beverages and can assist our clients in:

  • Obtaining the proper approvals from a local government.
  • Obtaining a license from the Division.
  • Purchasing and selling 4-COP licenses.
  • Representation in any appeals or enforcement actions relating to zoning or licensure matters.

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