WET/DRY ISSUE: Tyler Leaders Examine Zoning Laws In Preparation For Beer And Wine Sales
By JACQUE HILBURN-SIMMONS
If retail space becomes available near your child's day care, could it house a beer barn?
Possibly. In Tyler, it depends on what types of regulations are put into place, officials said.
Tyler city leaders are examining local zoning laws ahead of a possible November election legalizing the sale of beer and wine for off-premises consumption -- officials said they want to understand how a successful alcohol initiative could affect local ordinances.
The "Buy Local First" special purpose political action committee wants to give voters an opportunity to vote on whether alcohol can be sold legally within the city limits of Tyler and Smith County Justice Precinct 2.
The clock is ticking.
"They (Buy Local First) told legal counsel they want to have the petition filed by the end of May," City Manager Mark McDaniel said.
The committee has 60 days to gather 7,800 signatures from Tyler registered voters and another 6,700 from those in Smith County Precinct 2 before the measure can be put on November ballots.
Precinct 2 includes southwestern Tyler, Flint and Bullard, records show.
Once the petition signatures are received, the city has 30 days to verify them to ensure each person is a qualified registered voter before sending it to the Tyler City Council, which calls the election.
Certain paperwork also must be filed with the state to ensure compliance with the law.
"We're studying what's being proposed," McDaniel said last week, noting close scrutiny is being paid to zoning laws and the proximity between sale outlets and churches, hospitals and schools.
"We welcome any input citizens might have in the interim," the manager said.
State laws govern many provisions associated with alcohol sales, but the community has some regulatory authority, City Attorney Gary Landers said.
"That authority is similar to what we have now in our regulations for private clubs," the attorney said.
Alcohol sales in Tyler can be offered in certain locations that are zoned commercial, but proper permits are also required for occupancy, said Planning director Heather Nick.
The city has the authority to regulate the proximity between sale locations and certain public facilities, in accordance with state law, the director said.
"A 300-foot distance is required from churches, public schools and public hospitals," Ms. Nick said. "Day care is an option -- it can be included in the ordinance."
Gauging that distance isn't as simple as a door-to-door measurement. State law requires the distance be measured along property lines and access points, city officials said.
Midland's planning division manager Cameron Walker said his municipality requires the 300-foot minimum from the churches, schools and hospitals and a zoning review.
"All of our on-premise consumption places are regulated by the council through a specific use permit that is handled the same way as a zone change," he said.
Some other Texas cities allow alcohol to be sold in areas other than commercial.
The city of Odessa, for example, allows beverage sales in retail, business and industrial areas as well, according to its website. Voters approved sales several decades ago, said Andrea Goodson, Odessa spokeswoman.
State law spells out 10 different options for alcohol sales and Buy Local First plans to present petitions asking voters to support on two provisions:
The legal sale of beer and wine for off-premises consumption in places such as grocery and convenience stores. Packaged liquor sales would not be allowed.
The legal sale of mixed beverages in restaurants by food and beverage certificate holders only. This version was overwhelmingly approved by Tyler voters in 2008, but the current effort would expand sales to areas annexed after 2008 and in Justice Precinct 2.
Committee spokesman Bob Westbrook said although the measure is intended to legalize sales in grocery and convenience stories, he believes it could also prompt the creation of new, alcohol-only stores.
Brookshire Grocery Co. plans to apply for the permits to sell alcohol if the initiative is successful, Rebecca Sanders, the company's consumer relations director, said Thursday.
"The possible sale of beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores in the Tyler area has been an issue for many years," she said in a written statement. "Brookshire Grocery Co. supports the right of local citizens to choose, through an organized election, whether or not they will allow the sale of beer/wine in their community."
Company officials declined to say how the sales were affected in communities where voters approved alcohol sales. Brookshire Grocery Co. is a privately held company, Ms. Rogers said.
Not every business eligible to sell alcohol plans to do so, it seems.
Westbrook is a CiCi's Pizza franchisee, but he doesn't plan on offering alcohol for sale at his restaurant.
"That's not who we are," he said last week. "We're not going to serve alcohol even though it's available."
Westbrook acknowledged he stands to benefit from a positive alcohol initiative -- he owns the CiCi's Pizza off East Southeast Loop 323 near an empty anchor store previous occupied by Albertson's.
"There's not a grocery store chain that will look at Tyler," he said, "And it's not because of Brookshire's."
It's because the city is dry, and grocers are not allowed to sell alcoholic beverages, he said.
"The closing of Albertsons affected CiCi's, drastically," he said, "Shortly after the store closed, there was an immediate drop in business -- our business fell 20 percent initially after that business closed."
Westbrook said that if the issue passes, there's a good chance the empty anchor store will have a tenant again.
Another committee member, Nick Pencis, who owns Stanley's Famous Pit Bar-B-Que, said he plans on serving alcohol at his establishment. He's applying for a permit to serve beverages, so his plans aren't exactly hedging on the outcome of an election.
His interest in the election seems more personal than financial.
"I've been here a long time," he said. "I think it's an issue of personal choice."