Liquor store limits sought

Community makeup part of criteria

Three Metro Council members say they want to make it more difficult for liquor stores and bars to open in low-income areas that are already brimming with alcohol outlets.

Councilwomen Tara Wicker, Ronnie Edwards and Donna Collins-Lewis are proposing changes in city-parish ordinances that would give the Alcohol Beverage Control board more leverage to reject requests for liquor licenses.

The measure, which will be heard by the Metro Council on Wednesday, is building on a two-year battle that some council members have mounted — with results they say have been less than satisfactory.

Edwards said she can’t recall a single license that’s been denied by the ABC board since earlier changes were implemented two years ago.

In 2011, the council enacted controversial, temporary moratoriums preventing liquor permits from being approved in five low-income neighborhoods.

The council subsequently lifted the moratorium and approved language changes attempting to define “oversaturation” of liquor outlets in an area that the ABC board could take into consideration when deciding whether to grant a license.

The councilwomen say the board needs to consider the impact the business will have on the community, noting that the residents in some areas of the parish have more access to abundant liquor stores than they do grocery stores. They say the prevalence of alcohol in low-income areas contributes to health problems, high crime and other social ills.

“When we put policies in place this way, we’re doing it with the intent of being able to protect areas that are most vulnerable,” Wicker said. “Any city or any community is only as good as its weakest part and these are the areas we’re seeing that have the highest poverty and the highest crime.”

Under the proposed changes, the ABC board will be provided additional information about the makeup of the community where the business is attempting to open, such as statistics regarding frequency of “communicable diseases,” including sexually transmitted diseases and HIV infection.

The proposed changes also provide the board with the number of ABC violations at alcohol outlets within the area over the past year.

When the Metro Council approved changes in 2011, they asked the board to consider other community influences such as average household income, family structure, population density, crime statistics, the number of liquor licenses within a one-mile radius and the business plan of the licensee.

The 2011 language asked the ABC to consider impacts, including whether the license would contribute to an “overconcentration of types of land use or zoning in proportion to the population,” and the broader impact on the community’s “public health, safety or morals.”

But Bryan Jeansonne, an ABC board member, said he does not think oversaturation of liquor outlets was ever specifically defined. “It’s up to our discretion of what we think oversaturation may be,” he said. “If the Metro Council comes up with more guiding principles, then we can consider those.”

Jeansonne said he believes “the market will determine what oversaturation is.”

“If the liquor store can survive, then the market is not oversaturated,” he said.

Other changes proposed by the three council members will also make it easier for opposition to voice concerns about new liquor permits at hearings. To be heard at the final hearing now, opponents have to submit a notarized letter in advance of the meeting. That would no longer be necessary under the proposed changes.

“We needed to be able to make sure the community had the opportunity to make their voices heard,” Wicker said.