City leaders aren’t interested in keeping what a staff member termed mega liquor stores out of Lakewood.
With private liquor sales around the corner, the City Council rejected the idea of imposing a moratorium to keep out large, standalone liquor stores during a study session Monday night.
That was one option floated as city staff prepares for the state to get out of the business of distributing and selling liquor.
Mayor Doug Richardson said no one on the council was clamoring for a moratorium. He noted the message from voters in passing the initiative was clear, suggesting there was hesitancy to prevent liquor stores that voters supported.
Added Councilman Don Anderson: “I have a personal moratorium on declaring a moratorium.”
Councilman Paul Bocchi also was down on the idea of a moratorium.
“They always sound like you’re rigging the system in favor of the people who are already here,” he said.
Council members left the door open to having a discussion on zoning to regulate the size and location of these stores but indicated there was no rush.
“If the phone isn’t ringing, we have time to do that in a thoughtful way for a couple of study sessions,” Richardson said.
Voters passed Initiative 1183 in November that gets the state out of the business of distributing and selling liquor starting June 1. Under the new system, retailers can sell liquor if they’re at least 10,000 square feet in urban areas, but there is no cap on their size.
City staff calculated here are 15 existing retailers in Lakewood that are likely eligible to sell liquor. Four of them have made application: Albertsons on Steilacoom Boulevard, Safeway on Gravelly Lake Drive and Walgreens on Steilacoom Boulevard, according to the Washington State Liquor Control Board. Shin Shin, which operates a Korean grocery, submitted an application to open the first standalone liquor store on South Tacoma Way, senior planner Deborah Johnson told the council.
In addition, two state-run liquor stores in Lakewood could continue to operate in the private market. The liquor control board plans to auction off the rights to these stores, and the initiative bars it from denying liquor licenses to them even if they fall below the 10,000-square-foot requirement. It will announce its plan in the next couple of weeks on auctioning off these rights, said Brian Smith, an agency spokesman.
Johnson wrote in a staff report that three liquor megastores — BevMo!, Total Wine & More and Liquor Depot — may be looking to open standalone stores in the state.
Competition from Joint Base Lewis-McChord may mute market interest in Lakewood, however, she wrote. City staff conducted an informal survey and found that liquor was priced $1.50 lower per bottle on average on the installation than in state-run stores.
Ellie Chambers-Grady, the city’s economic development director, said she’s had no contact with these retailers and didn’t anticipate see any because of the close proximity to Lewis-McChord.
“We can’t really count on the military population unless a store is featuring a specialty product that is not available on the installation,” she said.
Lawyers for the Municipal Research and Service Center, a Seattle-based nonprofit consultant to cities and counties, have advised it’s unlikely that a city could prevent an existing store of at least 10,000 square feet that sells beer and wine from obtaining a license to sell liquor. But they noted the initiative gives communities more leeway to restrict or stop standalone liquor stores. Cities could require a conditional- or special-use permit to open such a store and restrict its size in certain zoning districts. MRSC also said enacting a moratorium “would be acceptable” as long as it applied to new liquor stores rather than premises already licensed to sell beer and wine.
The council did ask that city staff return with information how much revenue the city anticipates it would receive under a private system. That presentation will likely be made next week.
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