Arlington voters could decide whether city goes ‘wet’

Posted Thursday, Oct. 03, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information Early voting for the Nov. 5 election runs from Oct. 21 to Nov. 1. For more info, visit www.arlingtontx.gov/citysecretary and click on Election Information on the left.
Ballot language On Election Day, the following proposition will be on the ballot allowing voters to vote “for” in favor, or “against” in opposition to the following proposition: “The legal sale of all alcoholic beverages including mixed beverages.” Source: City of Arlington

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It all started with the idea of making things easier for Texas Rangers fans who wanted to have more than the customary beer and hot dog at the game.

But if a proposition passes on the Nov. 5 ballot, Arlington residents will no longer have to leave the city limits to buy bottles of vodka, whiskey or other hard liquor.

The proposition, originally intended to allow wines sales at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, would make Arlington “wet” for alcohol sales outside of restaurants and grocery and convenience stores.

Because of how the issue is worded on the ballot — calling for “the legal sale of all alcoholic beverages including mixed drinks,” package liquor stores would be allowed to open in any area zoned for industrial or retail use as long as the site is at least 100 feet away from a public or private school, hospital, day care or church, city officials said.

Industrial and retail zoning applies to large sections of the city, including areas along Interstates 20 and 30, Texas Highway 360 and major thoroughfares such as Cooper, Collins and Division streets.

“Even if it was initiated by one certain group for one particular purpose, it’s going to impact the entire city,” Assistant City Attorney David Barber said. “Essentially we would be ‘wet’ if it passes for all different kinds of permits and licenses available under the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, one of which is package liquor stores.”

Currently, residents can buy wine and beer at grocery stores within the city limits, but if they want to buy a bottle of hard liquor, they have to go to Dalworthington Gardens or Pantego — two cities Arlington wraps around — or to cities like Fort Worth that are its neighbors.

Even if the Arlington City Council decides to toughen its zoning regulations, package liquor stores wanting to open in the city after the election would face few restrictions.

The Arlington City Council could extend the setbacks separating liquor stores from certain establishments to 300 feet, thus limiting the number of locations where they could operate.

But, so far, the Arlington council has heard very little from residents about opening up the city to broader alcohol sales.

“Do I want to see liquor stores? No. But that’s me personally,” said Councilwoman Kathryn Wilemon, who represents west Arlington.

Wine sales

The Rangers, which reported reaching 3 million in home attendance for the second consecutive season, didn’t have to seek such a broad initiative to address their wine sales situation.

The Texas Rangers concession operator, Metroplex Sportsservice Inc., already holds three Texas Alcohol Beverage Commission permits. One allows the sale of beer, wine and mixed alcoholic beverages at the clubs, restaurants and suites. Another allows the sale of beer inside the ballpark.

A third temporary permit allows the sale of wine from a handful of kiosks on the concourse and club levels of the ballparks for fans to drink in certain seating areas of the stadium. That prevents wine from being purchased or consumed on the upper levels of the stadium.

The TABC has allowed the team’s concession operator to sell wine to fans on a short-term basis the past few seasons because the city doesn’t allow the specific type of alcohol permit it needs to sell just wine for on-premises consumption.

That permit is set to expire in April 2015, according to the TABC website.

Metroplex Sportsservice has the option of applying for a mixed beverage permit to cover the entire ballpark without the need for the local option election, said TABC spokeswoman Carolyn Beck said. But that would mean that all liquor sales, including beer, would be taxed at a higher rate.

Currently, vendors have to pay a 14 percent mixed beverage gross receipts tax to the state and that tax can not be charged to the customers. The mixed beverage tax does not apply to beer and wine sales in parts of the stadium that operate under the other two permits, Beck said.

“The local election will give Sportservice flexibility to have different types of licenses which fit all of the various hospitality and public spaces at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington,” Rangers spokesman John Blake said in a prepared statement.

“This approach not only gives us flexibility to provide optimal service based on specific needs but also will allow us to keep the cost down of providing that convenience to our fans. The Rangers and Sportservice have worked together in determining that this is the best approach,” he said.

That is why the Texas Rangers backed the petition drive earlier this year to collect more than 22,000 signatures required to get the measure on the ballot.

The team, along with the Texas Hospitality Association also raised $198,000 and donated it to a political action committee named Keep Arlington $ Here (KASH) that is campaigning in support of the ballot item, according to a campaign finance report filed with the city.

“The Rangers are supportive of the election and worked to get the vote on the ballot but at this point we haven’t finalized any other initiatives,” Blake said.

So far, no groups have registered with the city to campaign against the referendum.

If the election fails, the Texas Rangers’ concession operator will have to apply for a mixed beverage permit for the entire stadium if the team wants to continue serving wine, Beck said. That is the type of permit held by concession operator at the nearby AT&T Stadium.

But there is good news for the Rangers if the ballpark is forced to go that route. The mixed beverage permit tax vendors pay the state will fall from 14 percent to 6.7 percent under a new Texas law that goes into effect Jan. 1, Beck said.

Setback limits

Deciding where the liquor stores can open is largely dictated by the state, but the council can step in and set some ground rules.

State statute allows city councils or county commissioner courts to prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages within 300 feet of a public or private school, church or public hospital.

Cities and counties can increase the distance setback requirement from schools to 1,000 feet in certain cases to create an alcohol-free zone if they receive a request from the school district’s board of trustees or the governing body of a private school.

Planning Project Manager Lyndsay Mitchell Mitchell said the Arlington council has the ability to expand that setback distance to 300 feet but council members have not yet discussed making any ordinance changes.

“I don’t think we will set up any rules until it becomes a reality,” Mayor Robert Cluck said. “If it doesn’t pass, we have wasted quite a bit of time.”

In Fort Worth, stores typically can not sell alcoholic beverages within 300 feet of a church, public or private school or a public hospital, according to its ordinance. The possibility of extending the 1,000-foot setback does not apply to liquor stores that prohibit minors from entering, a city official said.

Liquor stores are allowed in commercial and industrial areas of Plano and most areas of Fort Worth, except parts of the northeast, according to a presentation to council. Dallas and Frisco allows liquor stores in retail, commercial, industrial districts while Colleyville only allows liquor stores in commercial districts with a specific use permit.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock

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