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Alcohol referendum: Mayor says "vote yes" down the line

Aldermen approve liquor overlay zone; ballot coming March 25
Wednesday, March 8, 2023
Referendum on the ballot March 25

Graphic courtesy of City of Ruston
The heavy green line shows the boundary of Ruston’s new entertainment overlay district. Inside the district, the green lines are the streets where bars can be located, should city voters legalize bars in the March 25 local option referendum.

Ruston’s Board of Aldermen has approved the final ordinance in a set of new regulations aimed at controlling expanded alcohol sales in the city, should voters decide to increase liquor options.

Aldermen on Monday unanimously approved an ordinance implementing an entertainment overlay district that, among other things, sets boundaries for the area in which bars could be located, and requires at least 1,320 feet between establishments.

City voters go to the polls March 25 primarily to decide whether grocery stores should be allowed to sell a full line of low-and high-content package alcoholic beverages.

But Louisiana law stipulates all five local option propositions must be on the ballot. That means voters must decide again whether they want they want beer to be sold in Ruston, and whether restaurants should be able to sell drinks with meals. Those options are currently legal.

Walmart and Brookshire’s, parent company of Super 1 Foods, are pushing the expanded grocery store sales.

The other item on the ballot would allow stand-alone bars. Those are not now legal in Ruston.

Ruston Mayor Ronny Walker is urging voters to say “yes” to all five options.

“I encourage you to vote and I encourage you to get your friends and neighbors to vote,” he said during Monday’s meeting.

Walker said he believes the new guidelines aldermen have adopted to regulate bars and define retailers that can sell high-content alcohol are stringent enough to keep Ruston “like a ‘Hallmark town.’”

“We think we have the most stringent rules and regulations of any city in the state. So we feel very comfortable in saying to our people vote ‘yes’ on all five options,” Walker said in a video posted to the city’s social media sites explaining the upcoming vote.

The city administration felt the need to put regulations in place even before voters go to the polls because, as Walker put it, “The ballot can be very confusing.”

The new ordinances will stay on the books even if voters reject bars and expanded grocery store sales.

In December, aldermen passed another liquor regulatory ordinance restricting retail sales to stores with a minimum 15,000 square feet, and that sell something besides alcohol.

“You can’t have just a liquor store,” Walker said.

Meantime, the new entertainment overlay district encompasses most of downtown Ruston, as well as areas near Louisiana Tech University.

“If a bar is to be located (in the district), it’s going to be on a main or primary street,” City Attorney Bill Carter said.

The new district is bounded by I-20 on the north; parts of Bonner Street, Vienna Street, East Mississippi Avenue, Hazel Street, and the KCS railroad track on the east; California Avenue on the south; and Tech Drive on the west.

The ordinance prohibits drive-thru and to-go sales of alcoholic beverages, and stipulates all locations for a bar, lounge, tavern, or brewpub not associated with a restaurant require approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission as a conditional use.