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Madison, Taco Bell reach tentative settlement on liquor license

April 27, 2019

If you’re Downtown, it looks like you’ll be able to grab a brew with that Taco Bell chalupa supreme after all.

Madison and Taco Bell have reached a tentative settlement in a yearlong legal fight to allow beer and wine sales at a franchised restaurant on State Street.

In December 2017, the City Council approved a beer and wine license for Taco Bell Cantina, 534 State St., but former Mayor Paul Soglin vetoed the license. Two attempts by the council to override the veto failed, and the city sent an official denial of the license in January 2018.

Soglin had said more liquor licenses on State Street would over-tax police in the area and that granting Taco Bell a liquor license would lead to more fast-food chains seeking licenses.

The operator of the restaurant, Bell Great Lakes, filed a lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court in April 2018 alleging the city’s rejection of the license was arbitrary and capricious. On Dec. 21, 2018, the court ruled in the company’s favor and ordered the city to issue the license. On Jan. 25, the city filed a notice of appeal with the Wisconsin Court of Appeals. The litigation is pending.

But a resolution by Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and two council members to be introduced Tuesday says the parties now wish to resolve the dispute.

“The city avoids the risk of a negative, statewide precedential ruling by the Court of Appeals that limits our discretion in issuing liquor licenses,” City Attorney Michael May said. “It also gives us the opportunity to seek to vacate the negative Circuit Court ruling which, while not of precedential value, is a ruling we would prefer to see off the books.”

Flynn Restaurant Group said in a statement it was pleased to reach an agreement with the city for a liquor license for its Taco Bell Cantina. “As the owner and operator of 1,245 restaurants across the country including over 450 Applebee’s locations – all with full-service liquor licenses – Flynn Restaurant Group has an outstanding reputation of owning and operating safe, orderly and compliant concepts nationwide and we pride ourselves on responsible service.”

Ald. Mike Verveer, whose 4th District includes the Taco Bell, has long supported a license with conditions for the restaurant and applauded the settlement.

The Alcohol License Review Committee will consider the settlement next, with a council decision expected no later than May 21, May said.

If the council approves the settlement, the city must issue the beer and wine license within 15 days, provided all legal conditions have been met. The license would have the same conditions as imposed in 2018, with the restaurant stopping service of alcohol by 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Taco Bell would have to meet the city definition of a restaurant and have food available at all times.

Once the license is issued, the sides would file a joint motion to vacate the Circuit Court decision. Then, the city would move to dismiss the litigation. The parties are agreeing to cover their own costs and attorney fees.