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Will Arlington Be 'Wet'?: Voters To Decide If City Should Allow Liquor Sales

BJ Austin
Arlington voters will decide Tuesday if the city should allow liquor sales.

On Tuesday, Arlington voters could end the city’s 111-year-old patchwork ban on liquor sales in the city.  A proposition on the ballot would make all of Arlington "wet."

Right now, restaurants can serve mixed drinks if they have the proper food and beverage certificate, and stores can only sell beer and wine. A proposition on Tuesday's ballot could change that. 

The Texas Rangers backed the petition drive to put the referendum on the ballot because it would allow expanded wine sales at the stadium. But the proposition reaches beyond the Ballpark. If passed, all of Arlington would become “wet” – allowing sale of mixed beverages citywide and package liquor stores. Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck says it’s economic development.

“To me, this is about tax revenue," Cluck said after delivering an upbeat State of the City address. "If people are going to drink they’re going to drink whether we’re dry or wet.  They’ll go to Pantego or some other city and they get the tax revenue. And if they’re going to do that, let’s bring that tax revenue to Arlington.”

City Council member Sheri Capehart says it’s not about whether you want liquor stores in Arlington. She says they’re already within the city limits  Pantego and Dalworthington Gardens are cities within Arlington, and they have liquor stores -- busy liquor stores.  Capehart says she does not expect a flurry of package stores to spring up citywide if the proposition passes.

“I think times have changed to the point that we’re not as likely to have a lot of mom-and-pop type kind of package stores spring up," Capehart said. "Really, this is more about the larger package stores which are more than just a package store. They’re also like a wine-and-cheese, kind of an upscale grocery store, in conjunction with packaged alcohol.”

Motorcycle riding minister Greg Key was quick to say he would be voting "no" as he arrived at the subcourthouse on East Abram, an early voting location.  

“I’m not for it at all," Key said, as he removed his helmet.  "I’m a minister and I deal with the other side of the alcohol problem all the time.  I was not happy when they opened it up for beer and wine, much less this.”

Organized opposition to the alcohol referendum has not surfaced. 

Another voter, Lavon Collins, voiced his support for the proposition -- as long as the city keeps liquor store locations in check.

“As long as the zoning takes into account the place where there are schools and churches and similar places, I’m OK with it, as long as it’s done responsibly,” Collins said.  

Capehart, the council member, says that liquor stores would be restricted to retail and industrial zoned areas. The City Council has already started work on specific zoning regulations.

She has a different concern about the referendum.

“My biggest concern is people don’t know it’s on the ballot," Capehart said. "And they need to get out there and vote and tell us what they want.”

If voters pass the proposition, it would end Arlington’s distinction of being the largest city in the United States that has no liquor stores within its city limits.   

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.