Fircrest alcohol ban repeal will go to voters

A citizen-led effort to repeal Fircrest’s partially “dry” status will appear on the November ballot.

The Pierce County Auditor’s Office confirmed Friday that 812 of more than 900 submitted signatures were valid. That exceeds the threshold of 706 signatures, or 30 percent of the number of voters who participated in the last general election, that are needed to place the measure on the fall ballot.

It means Fircrest voters will decide whether to cut the city’s last ties to the Prohibition era or whether to keep a patchwork of zoning rules that allows some businesses to serve alcohol by glass while others cannot.

“We’re just excited that we got the signatures that we did,” said Jon Rossman, co-chair of the Committee for a 21st Century Fircrest, the group that led the signature-gathering effort. “We’re looking forward to getting out there to educate the people on what we’re doing.”

Meantime, the city’s planning commission and City Council will draft zoning changes that would go into effect only if voters remove the ban.

“It’s in everybody’s best interest to keep this thing moving and be prepared,” Councilman Jason Medley said.

After hearing concerns from residents earlier this year about bars or taverns opening if the ban were lifted, the council directed the planning commission to protect surrounding neighborhoods.

“The planning commission is going to be busy trying to formulate something to appease the neighbors and potential businesses alike,” Medley said.

The commission preliminarily discussed the issue but put it on hold while updating the city’s comprehensive plan.

“Now that we’ve sent the comprehensive plan to the state, we are at the point where we can put this on the front burner,” Councilman Hunter George said.

George, the council’s liaison to the planning department, hopes the draft regulations are available before November.

Public input will play an important role in the process, both George and Medley said.

Lifting the ban would open the door for economic opportunity in Fircrest, Councilman Matthew Jolibois said.

“As you look at economic development, this is part of the formula,” he said. “It adds vitality to the evening times in our commercial areas.”

That’s assuming a majority of voters in the city of 6,500 people want to lift the ban.

Fircrest kept its version of Prohibition even after the rest of the state repealed blue laws in 1966. The last time Fircrest voters weighed in on the issue was in 1975, when they overwhelmingly supported keeping the ban.

Packaged alcohol sales are allowed in the city and adults are free to drink at home. But some food-and-drink establishments are banned from selling alcohol by the glass, while others are allowed to. Regents Boulevard, the city’s main drag, still falls under the ban.

The disparity is the result of a state law created at the city’s request in 1994. It allowed Fircrest to create an exception to the alcohol rules when it annexed roughly 200 acres that included restaurants and the Fircrest Golf Club.

For the next two decades, the Fircrest council hasn’t gone back to the ballot to try to create uniform alcohol rules for fear that if voters again upheld the ban, businesses in the annexed area would lose their special exception.

Then the Fircrest council asked the Legislature to change the law this year so that the annexed businesses can continue serving alcohol, no matter what. The council’s request came after a series of public meetings where residents expressed interest in lifting the alcohol ban.

Not every registered voter in Fircrest will be able to weigh in on the issue, however. The state law change requires that only voters living in the “dry” area can cast a ballot.