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Walker to tackle 'confusion' on liquor vote at Thursday Town Hall

Expanded sales could draw more grocery stores to town, mayor says
Nancy Bergeron
Monday, March 13, 2023
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Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker’s biggest worry about the March 25 local option alcohol referendum is that Ruston restaurants could lose the ability to sell both low- and high-content alcoholic beverages.

“My concern is because of confusion, (Proposition) 5 could be lost, which would be detrimental to our city’s growth,” Walker said Monday.

Proposition 5 on the ballot is the option that allows restaurants inside the city limits to sell beer, wine and liquor for on-premises consumption.

It’s partially because of confusion, which Walker said both proponents and opponents have caused, that he’s holding a Town Hall meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Ruston Civic Center to talk about the ballot.

The mayor’s goal: “To get some clarity to this whole liquor deal.”

Walker, City Attorney Bill Carter, Zoning Administrator Jim Hays and other officials will be on hand to answer residents’ questions.

“If people will come and listen and ask questions, they will understand,” Walker said.

While the restaurant issue isn’t the primary focus of the referendum, it’s on the ballot anyway. State law requires all five local-option propositions to be voted on if any one of them is brought up for a vote.

Each proposition passes or fails independent of the others.

Primarily at issue is Proposition 4, one that would allow local grocery stores to sell packaged high-content alcohol beverages for off-premises consumption. The proposition is being pushed by Brookshire’s, parent company of Super 1 Foods, and Walmart.

Walker said three or four other major grocery store chains have expressed interest in coming to Ruston, but without the ability to sell a full liquor line, they won’t.

That’s a similar impetus that led city voters to approve Proposition 5, the so-called restaurant referendum, in 2002.

Then, movie theater companies said they wouldn’t come to Ruston unless the city could land national restaurants, and the restaurants said they wouldn’t come unless they could serve alcohol.

That’s when the Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce formed a political action group that mounted a grassroots petition drive to get the issue on the ballot. This month’s local-option referendum will be the first alcohol referendum since then.

Proposition 1 on the ballot allows grocery and convenience stores to sell beer and other low-alcoholic content beverages. That’s currently allowed.

Proposition 2 basically allows beer-only bars that do not have to be part of a restaurant. That’s currently allowed in Ruston.

Proposition 3 allows free-standing bars not part of a restaurant to be able to sell high- and low-content drinks. This is currently not allowed in Ruston.

Proposition 4 is what Walmart and Brookshire’s want. By city ordinance, any retail store over 15,000 square feet would be allowed to sell packaged high-content beverages for off-site consumption. This is not currently allowed in Ruston.

Proposition 5 allows restaurants to sell both high-and low-content beverages. This is what voters approved in 2002.

Walker said he opposes Proposition 3. But he believes Ruston’s Board of Aldermen has put enough safety nets in place through new ordinances to stop any proliferation of bars.

Because of the protection he believes the new ordinances offer, Walker continues to urge voters to vote “yes” on all five propositions.

“We did so much work on these regulations, we felt like it was easier to say vote ‘yes’ on everything,” he said.

He takes issue with the contentions of an opposing group calling itself Keep Ruston Ruston that bars will pop up throughout downtown. One of the new ordinances requires 1,320 feet between establishments.

“And guess what? We can stop it at Planning and Zoning,” Walker said.

The ordinances also say bars are a conditional use in a newly created entertainment overlay zone. That means the Planning and Zoning Commission can either stop a re

quest or put more restrictions on it.

“There are so many safety nets in this thing it’s unbelievable,” Walker said.