You can decide whether to end the ban on liquor by the glass

One of the most common questions I hear from Fircrest residents involves our city’s partial prohibition on “liquor by the glass.” Specifically, they want more dining options in the area, and they often ask why the City Council doesn’t just change the law so that restaurants can offer a full beverage service with their menus, especially since we are the last city in Washington State to have a “dry” area, according to the Liquor Control Board.

Here’s the short answer: the City Council doesn’t have the authority. No City Council does. A Prohibition-era state law puts that decision solely in the hands of voters.

Given how many people have asked me about this, I looked for an opportunity to start the conversation. I got it on March 12, 2014, when we hosted a “visioning meeting” of the City Council. I’ve seen other city and county councils do these kinds of retreats where, instead of just talking about the day’s business, the elected leaders take the time to look at the big picture and pick some priorities to work on each year, so I suggested we dedicate a special meeting for this purpose. As you’ll see from the minutes, when it was my turn I requested that we start a conversation about the liquor issue. After a really interesting discussion, the Council voted to include that on our priority list.

prohibitionAs many of you now know, Fircrest’s situation is more complicated than most. Our city isn’t totally dry. The areas that were annexed in the 1990s were grandfathered in, meaning they were allowed to keep their liquor licenses. That includes the Fircrest Golf Club and such current businesses as Pint Defiance and Royal Thai Bistro (and the Emerson Courtyard shopping center).

The problem: If voters say no to liquor by the glass (as they did in 1975), those businesses would lose their grandfathered status, their liquor licenses, and their livelihoods. As Councilmembers, we agreed there’s no way we could let that happen.

So Councilmember Jason Medley and I, with the blessing of the full Council, went to Olympia several times during the 2015 session to ask for help. Our legislative delegation from the 28th Legislative District – Sen. Steve O’Ban, Rep. Christine Kilduff, and Rep. Dick Muri – sponsored a law that exempts the annexed areas from the new vote. Thanks to their help, we protected existing businesses along Mildred and Orchard streets from losing their licenses, while giving businesses along Regents Boulevard the opportunity to grow or locate here, with some limitations (more on that in a moment).

Now it’s up to you. Some Fircrest residents and business owners are circulating petitions to place the question of liquor by the drink on the Nov. 3 ballot. They need to turn in ab
out 700 signatures to the Pierce County Auditor’s Office in August, so there’s not much time. They have a campaign Facebook page called the Committee for a 21st Century Fircrest, and they can be reached at 21centuryfircrest@gmail.com. I’m told you’ll find petitions at TWO Cafe, Spring Lake Cafe, Exercise Science Center, Espresso Yourself and Fircrest Pharmacy.

Remember, a no vote maintains the status quo (meaning, no harm to any existing license holder). A yes vote removes the ban on sales by the glass, which enables businesses like Spring Lake Café and T.W.O to expand their offerings, and it removes an obstacle for other dining establishments to consider opening here.wine

Which brings me to this point: Fircrest is a residential, family-friendly community. I can assure you the Council often talks about the charming feeling you get in Fircrest, and our commitment to preserve that. In other words, nightclubs like those on Tacoma’s 6th Avenue would clash with our quiet neighborhoods.

The City Council has asked the Fircrest Planning Commission to develop draft zoning regulations that would limit the types of businesses that could operate here. Each Councilmember is assigned as the liaison to a city department every year, and my assignment this year happens to be the Planning Department. We anticipate the Planning Commission will take this up in September, and then they’d forward a recommendation to the City Council for another round of consideration. We will want to hear from residents on this issue, so I will post an update when the public hearings are scheduled. Aug. 15 update: The Planning Commission is now scheduled to review and discuss a draft recommendation on Sept. 1, and solicit public comment at a meeting on Oct. 6. Both meetings are open to the public. Aug. 29 update: The Planning Commission has scheduled a special meeting for this topic on Sept. 15.

This is a controversial topic for some, especially those who live next to the two commercial areas on Regents. We have to respect their interests. (Who wants to hear the sound of beer bottles being dumped in the garbage recycling bin at midnight?) I believe we can manage this issue like we do other issues – in that neighborly way in which we listen to each other and we look for ways to improve our quality of life while preserving the characteristics that make this such a charming place to live. Do you agree?

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Aug. 15 clarification: I want to make sure I’m not in any way implying that the full City Council supports lifting the prohibition. The full Council agreed that we should change the state law so that existing businesses in the annexed areas wouldn’t be harmed. At least a couple of members have said that doesn’t necessarily mean they will vote to repeal the prohibition.