Elections

After 40 years, Fircrest voters get to vote again on liquor ban

Fircrest neighbors Scott Brannon, left, and Ken Porter live across the street from a shopping center that could have restaurants serving liquor by the glass if Proposition 1 passes this fall. They already have complaints about the look of the complex, which they have fought for years to get cleaned up without success. Their biggest issue is their proximity to the complex; their homes are 75 feet across the street and garbage bins sit in plain view during much of the week.
Fircrest neighbors Scott Brannon, left, and Ken Porter live across the street from a shopping center that could have restaurants serving liquor by the glass if Proposition 1 passes this fall. They already have complaints about the look of the complex, which they have fought for years to get cleaned up without success. Their biggest issue is their proximity to the complex; their homes are 75 feet across the street and garbage bins sit in plain view during much of the week. Staff photographer

Fircrest restaurant owner Scott Clement wants nothing more than a level playing field. He owns the Spring Lake Cafe, located in the core area of Fircrest that’s still covered by a law dating to the city’s founding in 1925.

Restaurants in this original part of Fircrest are banned from selling alcohol by the glass, while those in annexed corners of the city are free to let their customers imbibe.

“I think if we’re all conducting business in the same city, we should all play by the same rules,” Clement said.

Scott Brannon and Ken Porter are lined up on the other side of the issue. The neighbors worry about additional noise, traffic, street parking and garbage if the shopping center across the street from their homes is allowed to start selling alcohol by the glass.

“Neither one of us are prudes,” Brannon said. “We just think there’s a right place for everything.”

The future of Fircrest’s partly “dry” status — a holdover from the Prohibition era that makes the city unique in the state — will be settled in the next two weeks.

If voters approve Proposition 1 on the Nov. 3 ballot, the sale of alcohol by the glass would be possible in all commercially zoned parts of the city of 6,600 people.

If denied, the status quo would remain in place: Businesses in the parts of the city annexed after the mid-1990s would continue to be able to pour drinks, while those in the city core along Regents Boulevard would not.

It would be nice for the people to know exactly what they’re voting for.

Ken Porter, Fircrest resident opposed to Proposition 1

Washington voters repealed the state’s blue laws in 1966, but Fircrest has held on to its version of prohibition. In 1975, local residents voted overwhelmingly to keep it. (It’s not an outright booze ban. Packaged alcohol sales are legal, and adults are free to drink within city limits.)

Not all Fircrest residents will see Proposition 1 on their ballots, but most will. Legislation passed in Olympia this year limited the vote to those who live in the area affected by the ban: the original boundaries of the city. That amounts to 3,831 voters, out of a total of 4,486 registered voters in Fircrest.

If the ban is lifted, four existing businesses would be eligible to apply for a license to serve alcohol. They are Spring Lake Cafe, Espresso Yourself, T.W.O. Coffee Shop and Viafore’s Italian Delicatessen.

Fircrest Mayor David Viafore said he has no plans to offer alcohol by the glass at his deli.

“I have no intention of changing my business formula to chase the dollar,” he said.

At Spring Lake Cafe, however, Clement is ready for the change. He’s known for his breakfast and lunch menu, but wants to expand his dinner offerings. Having a beer-and-wine list is critical to the transition. He figures he could stay open later and double his business.

T.W.O. Coffee Shop owner Jill Absten is a member of the Committee for a 21st Century Fircrest that favors lifting the ban. Her cafe is located in the Village Square center, across the street from Brannon and Porter. (She declined to be interviewed for this story.)

The cafe is the only business at Village Square right now that would be allowed to offer alcohol by the glass. Other businesses there include a dry cleaner, exercise club, veterinary hospital and pet groomers, clothing store, pharmacy, physical therapy office, spa, and salon.

But Village Square has a number of empty spaces, including the anchor tenant location where Manley’s grocery store once operated.

What I’m hearing from people is they are just excited about the ability to be able to walk or ride their bikes to a gastro pub, or be able to grab some dinner and a glass of wine.

Jon Rossman, co-chair Committee for a 21st Century Fircrest

Supporters of Proposition 1 hope allowing liquor by the glass would increase business interest at Village Square.

“Any new opportunity that would come in, I think would be on the small scale,” said Jon Rossman, co-chair of the Committee for a 21st Century Fircrest.

“What I’m hearing from people is they are just excited about the ability to be able to walk or ride their bikes to a gastro pub, or be able to grab some dinner and a glass of wine,” he said.

Don’t count on a microbrewery, however. City code prohibits manufacturing businesses including alcohol.

Rossman said he trusts the City Council to listen to neighbors and impose regulations that would limit any new business to a family-friendly environment befitting the residential community.

In fact, the city planning commission has already proposed regulations controlling who could sell liquor by the glass.

The recently drafted proposal would prohibit taverns, night clubs, sports entertainment facilities and lounges from opening in the city. All businesses selling liquor by the glass would have to close by 10 p.m., and no alcohol could be served or consumed outside.

To limit impacts on neighbors, the commission also said no bottles could be taken outside as garbage between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.

If voters approve Proposition 1, the City Council will discuss the commission’s recommendations after the election. It can change or add regulations.

Brannon and Porter wish the regulations had been adopted before voters were asked to overturn the 90-year-old law.

“It would be nice for the people to know exactly what they’re voting for,” Porter said.

Brannon says he doesn’t have a problem with people enjoying a drink while dining in Fircrest. He opposes Proposition 1 because he doesn’t trust the city to enforce its codes, he said.

Brannon and Porter live on Princeton Street, and they can look out their front windows at the back of Village Square. Their view of the blue and gray garbage bins is not pretty.

They’ve been trying to get the city to do something about the bins; city code requires garbage be screened so it’s not visible from the street. And while the city has been working with the property owner, it hasn’t moved quickly enough for Brannon and Porter’s liking.

Their experience leaves them skeptical the city would enforce codes regulating the sale of liquor by the glass.

“Our concerns are that because they have not enforced the codes they have now, how are they going to enforce these?” Brannon said.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467

brynn.grimley@thenewstribune.com

@bgrimley

 
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