By T. Scott Boatright
Ruston’s City Council made it official Monday night — voters will get a chance to change alcohol regulations during an election to be held next March.
The City Council addressed the matter after Lincoln Parish Registrar of Voters Sharon Parnell announced late last month that 2,793 signatures on a alcohol sales petition had been certified as real and belonging to Ruston residents.
Those backing the petition were required to get at least 2,454 valid signatures — 25% of Ruston’s registered voters — to force the City Council to schedule a referendum on the matter.
The primary issue is whether grocery stores and convenience stores should be allowed to sell wine and high-content alcohol.
Walmart and Brookshires, Super 1’s parent company, were the two major forces behind proposing changes to Ruston’s alcohol sales regulations.
Under the new proposal which Ruston City’s Council voted to be placed on a March 25, 2023, ballot, high-content alcohol sales will be limited to retail establishments with a minimum heated interior of 15,000 square feet and with total monthly sales of alcohol not greater than 50% of all retail sales at the location.
That square footage is significantly less than was originally proposed.
If passed, the proposed zoning amendments will also regulate bar locations. Straight-up bars with no foods served as currently not legal in Ruston. But that could change after the March election.
The proposed amendment for the March election sets up a multi-block entertainment district where bars would be allowed as long as they are at least 1,320 feet from each other.
That proposed district would have boundaries of Interstate 20 to the north, Bonner and Vienna streets to the east, Tech drive on the west and California Avenue on the south as well as an added area that includes already-approved development on East Mississippi Avenue where the city’s old diesel power plant used to be located.
Twice this matter has been voted on over the years.
City Attorney Bill Carter highlighted the two changes to the proposed amendments.
“One of the amendments reduces the square footage regulation from 100,000 square feet to 15,000,” Carter said. “Other amendments, including the definitions of “tavern” and “lounge.”
Those would be amendments 4 and 5, which did not pass the last time Ruston voters considered the amendments in 2016. All five amendments must be passed for the overall ordinance to be changed.
The first three are allowing beer sales by convenience stores , etc. as currently exists in Ruston, allowing beer sales by restaurants and bars, which is also currently legal in Ruston and allowing bars to sell wine and liquor.
As proposed, the fourth amendment would allow package stores, grocers, etc. to sell wine and liquor, which is not currently legal in Ruston.
And the fifth is worded, “Shall the sale of beverages of high and low alcoholic content be permitted only on the premises of restaurant establishments which have been issued an ‘R’ permit as defined by law in Ruston, Louisiana?”
After Carter explained the changes and before consideration and a public hearing, Walker made a short statement on the matter.
“As we — the City Council and myself — looked at this, we felt like we needed to put some … will you say (question) … safeguards … at least some reasonable regulations, in place for public safety,” Walker said. “That’s the reason we’re doing these tonight.
“We looked at this a long time and very hard. Will this be the final document? Probably not. There could be something we come up with or someone thinks about later on, but at least, this will get us started and I wanted to do that with some safeguards in place so that the people of Ruston, as they vote, will know that the City Council has already taken that step to look out for public safety and some reasonable regulations in place.”
Both the vote for the amendments and then the vote to call for the special election to be held next March were approved unanimously by roll-call.
In other business, Ruston’s aldermen set their 2023 meeting dates as previously handled, authorized the city to a cooperative endeavor agreement with Louisiana Tech University and authorized the city to enter into contract related to upgrading East Kentucky /Cedar Creek Road Connection Project.
Before the meeting began, outgoing Councilman Jim Pearce was honored with a reception that included Walker and former Mayor Dan Hollingworth paying tribute to Pearce’s 24 years of service on the City Council.
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