By Malcolm Butler
Following Saturday’s “yes” vote that will ultimately expand alcohol sales within the city of Ruston, both proponents and opponents of the propositions have had a few days to digest the results.
All five propositions passed and the biggest surprise was the approval of Proposition No. 3 that will allow bars-only in the city, something that many long-time Ruston residents never thought would happen.
Proposition 3 narrowly passed 52 percent to 48 percent while Proposition 4 passed easily with 69 percent to 31 percent.
“We feel like we gave it our best shot, and we did come within 82 votes on (Proposition) 3,” said Ben Humphries, who was part of a Keep Ruston Ruston group that advocated for people to vote against Propositions No. 3 and 4 (allowing grocery stores to sell alcohol). “So we got really close on that and not as close as I’d wished on number four. And of course, we were in favor of one, two and five.
“So those were really never in doubt. But, you know, we feel like we did everything we could do. We felt like the voice of the people, you know, the ones that voted. I wish that there had been more than 19 or 20%. But that seems to be our society these days. But, you know, we gave it gave it a run and it is what it is.“
John Hatch of The Hatch Consulting Group that advocated for the referendum for the grocery stores said he was pleased with the results.
“We are very happy with the results,” said Hatch. “With such a high turnout of nearly 20% and with so much coverage of the issues, no one can say the voters didn’t understand the issue. Anything more than 10 points is considered a landslide. A 19 -point win on Prop 4 sends a strong signal that the community was ready for this and ready to keep their tax dollars at home.”
So now that the people have spoken, what is next?
“This coming Monday night (at the City Council meeting) we will start the legal process of putting in place the logistics of how someone goes about applying to get a permit,” said Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker. “That will take two city council meetings. So it will be around June 1 before supermarkets can start to apply for it.
“The guidelines will mirror what the state requires. Right now we have an A, B and C license and now we will have to have one specifically for bar-only. We have had one for restaurant bars. We have had one for beer only. We had one for special events. So we will have to come up with the language for the new one.
“We are not in a race. We want to do it right. And there are cities across the state that have it already, and I am sure we will burrow some language from those.”
Some of what the City Council will do will be resolutions and some will be ordinances. Walker said an ordinance has to be voted on 30 days later while a resolution can pass that night.
“I don’t know until I see from our city attorney (what will be what) so I’m not sure,” said Walker. “I know we will have it ready for the City Council this Monday night and then our May meeting we will have those voted on. We will probably have some additional things that come up then too.”
Walker said he feels like from the City Council standpoint they will have everything done in two meetings and by the summer he hopes everything will be in place for bars and grocery stores.
Walker said based on the regulations put in place on the bars, the maximum that could pop up in the city of Ruston would be three. Once one bar is established, a second one bar could not go up within a quarter of a mile (1,320 feet) based on the ordinances passed by the City Council.
“With perfect placement, you could only have three,” said Walker. “But depending on placement of the first one, you may could only have two. Some people were worried there would be bars everywhere, but you can’t. The ordinances won’t allow it.”
Walker did stress that the ordinance is directed at bars only. Restaurants that sell alcohol plus beer-only bars — which 24 already exist within Ruston — don’t fall under the ordinance.
Walker did say that the combination of the vote and the January announcement of Buc-ee’s coming to Ruston is a one-two punch that should bring additional businesses to Lincoln Parish.
“There are several major restaurants looking at Ruston because of Buc-ee’s,” said Walker. “I can tell you they wouldn’t have come if we had voted alcohol out. Now it opens us up so much economic-wise.”
Walker doesn’t believe any of those restaurants would be operational prior to the Buc-ee’s timeline, but said if they buy an existing building they could be.
“If you come to Ruston looking for a restaurant that is already ready to roll, right now you have the Z-Buffet building, Portico, and Daq’s Wings,” said Walker. “That’s it as far as I’m aware.”