Wednesday, November 08, 2017

TOP STORY >> Early voting on liquor in restaurants

Leader staff writer

“It will give Sherwood the greatest opportunity for growth that we’ve seen in quite a while,” said Mayor Virginia Young.

The “it” is a vote set for Tuesday to allow restaurants to sell alcohol by the glass in Gray Township, a dry area that banned alcohol sales in most of Jacksonville and much of Sherwood more than 50 years ago.

Early voting ballots can be cast from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m. weekdays, through Thursday at the Jacksonville Community Center, 5 Municipal Drive in Jacksonville, and at the Jack Evans Senior Citizens Center, 2301 Thornhill Drive in Sherwood.

Early voting will also be held at the Pulaski CountyRegional Building at 501 W. Markham St. in Little Rock from 8 a.m. till 5 p.m. through Friday and on Monday.

The alcohol ban affects about 50 percent of Sherwood and 90 percent of Jacksonville.

“We do believe more restaurants will come to the city if the vote is approved,” the mayor said, and even though she doesn’t have any hard numbers, she thinks the economic impact will be great, especially along Hwy. 107.

Paul Wilson, a developer who is currently building a small center at the corner of Hwy. 107 and Oakdale Road and is a member of the Sherwood committee pushing for the vote, said he’s excited about the possibility of alcohol drink sales.

“We’ve been meeting weekly and working hard to educate voters that this is not about liquor stores or bars. It’s about drinks on premises, specifically for restaurants,” he said.

Gas stations and grocery stores will still be banned from selling alcohol if they’re already in a dry area. The vote is only for restaurants to sell beer, wine and mixed drinks.

Wilson has a restaurant, the Woodland Bakery and Bistro, going into his center, and they are looking forward to serving alcohol.

“But no matter the vote, they are coming in and will succeed,” Wilson said.

But Wilson said having the option to serve alcohol increases the chances of more restaurants coming in, then other businesses and then more homes and maybe a grocery store and more restaurants.

“Once one is successful, others will come,” Wilson said.

Only residents who live in Gray Township are eligible to vote in both cities. In 1953, Gray Township voted to become dry. A series of other votes followed over the next few years that kept the area dry.

But the township is now defunct, having been replaced by precincts.

Wilson said he understands the original vote. “It was a different time back then. The vote was understandable, but it needs to be changed now.”

In Sherwood, the township’s boundary begins at Maryland Avenue on Hwy. 107 and near Austin Bay Court off Brockington Road. So residents living north of those streets toward Gravel Ridge and Jacksonville and up to the back gate of the air base can vote.

Some of the Sherwood neighborhoods eligible to vote include Millers Crossing, Austin Gardens, Austin Lakes on the Bay, Gap Creek and Indianhead.

Sherwood Alderman Ken Keplinger is also a strong proponent of the vote. “I’m definitely for it. It will bring in a strong economic boost for that portion of Sherwood. The extra revenue will allow us to serve our residents better.”

Even though Sherwood and Jacksonville are working hand-in-hand and the vote in both cities is on the same day, it is two separate votes. One area could get approved but not the other.

The combined Jacksonville-Sherwood committee includes co-chairs Wilson and Dr. Bob Price from Jacksonville; Sherwood chamber president Brooks McRae; Sherwood chamber director Marcia Cook; Sherwood City Attorney Steve Cobb; Sherwood Alderman Marina Brooks, as well as Robin Benetz, Jacksonville Alderman Les Collins, and Jacksonville residents Mike Wilson, Mindy Strand, LaConda Watson and Karen Abrahamson.

Neither Wilson, Keplinger nor Price have seen or heard much opposition.

“I have talked to only two people in the last several months that are opposed to local option. I have contacted many people in the process of the campaign and have not encountered any organized opposition,” Price said.

“In cities (where restaurants can sell alcohol), population has increased, which has driven the need for additional business. As a result, sales tax has increased, which has helped with city government expenses. Cities have been able to provide greater safety measures for citizens by updating old equipment such as ambulances, fire trucks and police cars,” Price explained.