Fircrest gingerly approaches alcohol ban

Many want to repeal ban on sale of alcohol by the glass in some areas, but others worry about effects on children

Tacoma News TribuneMay 27, 2014 

Fircrest City Council held its first public discussion in more than a decade Tuesday night about repealing the city's Prohibition-era alcohol ban but made no decision about how to move forward.

Most council members indicated they preferred a deliberative process that would balance the concerns of the town's 6,500 residents without affecting businesses that can serve alcohol now under an exception in state law.

The council is considering two options. The first is put an advisory vote on the ballot asking all Fircrest voters whether they support lifting the ban. If voters favored changing the law, the city would hold an official, binding vote.

Or, the council could ask state legislators to change the law so the only people voting are those who live in the areas of the city where serving alcohol by the glass is illegal.

That approach could answer a concern that if voters upheld the ban, state law would require all businesses to go "dry" - even those that currently serve alcohol because they do business in areas that were annexed after 1995.

Despite a standing-room only crowd, only a dozen people spoke about the ban. The majority supported lifting it, while four cautioned the council.

"I have three kids, they ride bikes and I worry about people drinking and driving. However, I like to have a glass of wine with my meal," said Kurt Kageler, who has lived in Fircrest more than 20 years.

Kageler owns a family fun center in Lacey that recently started selling beer and wine. It helped boost his sales, he said.

"Beer and wine isn't the solution, but it does help," he said.

Three people who opposed lifting the ban live on Princeton Street behind a commercial complex that could house businesses serving alcohol if the law changed.

"Yes, it would bring in revenue but it would badly affect our quality of life," said Linda Still who has lived on the street 43 years. Aware she may be in the minority, Still asked the council to be careful about what businesses would be allowed if the law is repealed.

Former state Sen. Shirley Winsley, R-Fircrest, told the council to be cautious if it pursues the change, especially through public vote. Winsley helped change state law in the 1990s to allow businesses being annexed into Fircrest - mainly the Fircrest Golf Club - keep their liquor licenses.

"I've seen the dry vote upheld twice. I'm not sure if you put it for a vote of the people that you can guarantee the 'wet' would pass and we could save the Fircrest Golf Course from going dry," she said. "You have a lot of issues at stake, so be careful."

Fircrest's alcohol ban dates to the city's founding in 1925, during the Prohibition era when blue laws were still on the books of most Washington cities.

While state voters repealed blue laws in 1966, Fircrest kept its version. It allows packaged alcohol sales, and adults are free to drink within city limits. But Fircrest remains the only city in Washington to enforce a ban on alcohol sales by the glass, according to the state Liquor Control Board.

Fircrest voters overwhelmingly affirmed their support for it in 1975. Unless state law is changed, a public vote is needed to repeal the ban.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467 brynn.grimley@thenewstribune.com

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