Tuesday, November 05, 2013

TOP STORY >> Sherwood pushes wet-vote petition

Leader staff writer

Sherwood is putting its drive to become completely wet into third gear, according to chamber of commerce executive director Marcia Cook.

“We’re excited to report that our plans of putting the economic development issue on a ballot to allow restaurants/grocery stores to sell alcohol in currently dry areas of Sherwood are moving along nicely,” she said.

“We will have volunteers out in neighborhoods this weekend knocking on doors and asking for signatures,” Cook continued, adding that volunteers are still needed.

“We’re asking for 50 people to go door-to-door by twos in two-hour shifts from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday or Sunday,” the chamber director said.

The signatures don’t mean that the half of the city that is dry (no alcohol sales, unless by special state permit) will instantly be allowed to sell alcohol. The petition merely asks for a vote on the issue.

Sherwood is about 50 percent dry. The dry area is pretty much everything north of the east- and west-running Maryland Avenue, with the Bayou Meto forming the eastern boundary. Maryland Avenue is on the south, Batesville Pike is on the west and the county line is to the north.

A study by the University of Arkansas figures Sherwood is losing out on about $10 million a year in local sales because of the dry section in the city.

By going wet, the number of liquor stores will not increase, according to backers. A vote to go wet would only allow businesses, like restaurants, to sell alcohol by the drink. It also could bring beer and wine to convenience stores and bigger businesses, like Walmart. Right now, depending on where those businesses are, most residents won’t see a big change, Cook said.

Sherwood is one of four areas in Pulaski County that are dry.

Another area is Park Hill in North Little Rock, and wet supporters there garnered enough signatures to have a special election Nov. 12 on the issue.

Jacksonville, also working toward a wet vote, is 90 percent dry.

Sherwood and Jacksonville are split on alcohol sales being allowed because Gray Township, which encompassed large areas of both cities, voted in 1954, and again in 1956, to go dry — not allowing any alcohol sales unless a private-club permit was issued.

That political entity doesn’t exist anymore, and a law passed by the 2013 legislature allows for residents in those old political areas to vote on whether they want to stay dry or go wet.

For Sherwood to have the vote, volunteers need to collect about 4,200 signatures. Jacksonville needs about 4,400.

“We are shooting for 5,000 or more signatures,” Cook said, “as there are always some duplicates and invalid signatures.”

Unlike Jacksonville, which has seen a lot of anti-liquor campaigning already, Cook said there has been very little vocal opposition in Sherwood.

Kelly Coughlin, Sherwood’s former economic development director, did a lot of leg work and research to set the effort in motion. She took a new job out of town in the summer, causing Sherwood’s effort to slow.

“But we are ready now,” Cook said.

Besides the push this weekend, Cook said petitions are available for residents to sign at Thursday’s chamber luncheon.

Petitions are also available to sign at the chamber, Gregory Polaris, Sherwood Crossfit and North Pulaski Storage.

For more details or to volunteer, call the chamber office at 501-835-7600.