Wednesday, June 19, 2013

TOP STORY >> Meetings on wet or dry

Leader staff writer

Petitions requesting a vote on whether most of Jacksonville and Sherwood goes wet or stays dry will be available at a 5:30 p.m. town-hall meeting Monday.

The Jacksonville and Sher-wood chambers of commerce are hosting town hall meetings on Monday and Tuesday about the new state law that could have an economic impact of $10.6 million a year. 

The first meeting is at the Sherwood City Council chamber, 2201 E. Kiehl Ave. The second meeting is at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Jacksonville Community Center, 5 Municipal Drive.

The meeting in Sherwood will be a time for questions and determine where new voter boundaries are located for the election, according to a news release.

The new law allows residents of defunct townships to circulate a petition requesting a vote on whether full-service restaurants, convenience and grocery stores can sell alcohol without having to obtain expensive private-club licenses.

There are no more liquor store licenses available in Pulaski County. Sherwood Economic Development Director Kelly Coughlin said previously that language in the new law also prohibits them.

Some liquor store owners opposed the new law because they were concerned about additional competition from convenience stores selling beer at rock-bottom prices just to get customers to come into their establishments.

But Jim Durham, Jacksonville’s director of administration, said they should know that if the area is voted wet those businesses would have to apply for the C-5 zoning the liquor stores already have or ask the city for a conditional use permit in order to sell alcohol.

One of the defunct townships the law applies to is Gray Township, which makes up most of Jacksonville and everything in Sherwood that is north of Maryland Avenue, including Gravel Ridge. The area has been dry for more than 60 years.

The law also covers three other dry, but defunct townships in Pulaski County. One is in North Little Rock near the Park Hill neighborhood, another is northwest of Little Rock Air Force Base and the other in southwest Little Rock.

The law states petitioners must collect signatures from 38 percent of registered voters within the boundaries of a defunct township.

The Pulaski County Quorum Court would sanction the election and the county would cover the cost of any election over the alcohol issue.

Advocates have previously said that the area going wet would make it more attractive to chain restaurants.

Restaurants in the dry portions of Sherwood and Jacksonville have to apply for a private-club license in order to sell alcohol.

The application fee for the license is $1,500. Once a license is approved, the annual renewal fee is $1,500. Restaurants with the license are not able to purchase alcohol at wholesale prices.