Liquor is not quicker in this case. It plods along like a turtle wondering if it should give up and turn back.
The city council is about three-quarters-hearted about allowing beer and wine stores in Takoma Park. Currently liquor “off-sales” are banned in the city by state law. The council could ask the state to change that law. At that point, however, the county would have control over license granting and other matters the city would rather have itself. That’s one reason the council is not 100% enthusiastic.
Another reason is the small but significant constituent opposition to the proposal. Opponents outnumbered supporters at a recent public hearing. At the more recent July 20 council meeting councilmember Colleen Clay said that despite e-mails running 10-1 in favor, she’s heard opposition from a few influential, “bell weather” citizens.
The discussion was similar to past ones on the subject. Councilmember Terry Seamens remains steadfastly opposed, objecting that there are “more important things to spend time on.” He said he has not seen public support. He charged that the proposal moves forward only because of council support.
To the contrary, councilmember Josh Wright and the mayor report overwhelming constituent support. Wright reports an 8 to 2 margin. His Ward 1 is relatively affluent and contains much of the Old Town commercial district. The mayor said he has heard from 30-40 citizens citywide and support runs about 6 to 1.
“Just open up sales in the food marts,” said Colleen Clay. Councilmember Fred Schultz agreed with her. Schultz reported “constituent indifference” on the issue. He speculated that was due to a number of liquor stores within a short distance of his Ward 6. He said he saw no reason to oppose allowing beer and wine stores if only to encourage and support local businesses.
Schultz and others did not agree with Clay that restricting where a beer and wine stores could be located (Old Town or Takoma Junction) would be racist. Clay said she would vote against any proposal that included such a provision. She did not feel rushed, she said, to push a resolution through this year.
The other councilmembers gave the proposal only moderate support. Councilmember Dan Robinson continues to be concerned about the notoriously difficult county liquor control system.
Councilmember Reuben Snipper said his support was “lukewarm.” His ward includes the Adventist hospital and college where he suspects opposition would be strong. He agreed a little bit with Terry Seamens that the issue was a waste of council time. He wants more constituent input. Business needs should not drive city policy, he said.
The lack of city control once the state and county laws change to allow beer and wine stores was a big concern. Josh Wright proposed adding a request for local control to the resolution the city might send to the state. Others supported the idea, but the mayor warned they were “tilting at windmills,” and that a bid for local control would likely be shot down.
Six out of the 7 councilmembers agreed to move forward with the issue, though the level of council interest ranges from enthusiastic to skeptical. There will be a draft resolution for public comment in September.