Organizers confident this time about Pearland alcohol sales petition

Will Kreznick

Pearland organizers trying to repeal the city’s so-called “51 percent rule” regarding alcohol sales at businesses are definitely hoping the third time’s a charm. Following attempts in 2014 and 2015, a group called The Pearland Entertainment and Beverage Coalition (PEBC) is once again working to collect enough signatures to place […]

Pearland organizers trying to repeal the city’s so-called “51 percent rule” regarding alcohol sales at businesses are definitely hoping the third time’s a charm.

Following attempts in 2014 and 2015, a group called The Pearland Entertainment and Beverage Coalition (PEBC) is once again working to collect enough signatures to place a local option election on the November ballot in hopes of doing away with the law, which requires that businesses serving alcohol such as liquor, beer and wine earn at least 51 percent of their revenues from food sales.

Under current rules, only businesses that have a food-and-beverage permit — such as restaurants — can serve mixed alcoholic beverages and beer. To get a permit, 51 percent or more of an establishment’s gross sales must come from food. Supporters of the petition effort say that deters establishments such as some high-end restaurants, as well as bars and lounges, from locating in the city..

‘We’re gonna do it’

The PEBC, which lists petition locations on its Facebook page, has until July 20 to collect 15,050 signatures from registered voters who live in Pearland.

Seth Thompson, the group’s chairman, said no charm is needed this time.

“We’re gonna do it,” he said. “(I don’t think) there are any people actively pushing for everything to be dry, it’s just a pain in the butt to do (the petition). You can’t just have the City Council put it out there for a vote. You have to go through this whole process.”

Thompson was involved in past attempts to get it done, but those failed for lack of enough signatures, and the measure never made it to the ballot. However, he said this time is different, with more corporate partners and paid petitioners actively working to collect signatures.

There are petition sign-up sheets at various businesses around town, including The Jambalaya Shoppe, Pearland Coffee Roasters and Jax Burgers-Cullen. As of presstime, signature collectors had more than 5,000 signatures.

The group has had vocal support from City Council members Luke Orlando and Alex Kamkar. Both said the law needs to be repealed if Pearland is going to attract a more diverse offering of entertainment establishments and pursue walkable, mixed-use entertainment districts. They said doing so would mean keeping entertainment those dollars local rather than see them spent in neighboring cities such as Sugar Land or Katy that don’t operate under the same restrictions. Repealing the law, they contend, also impacts the city’s ability to thrive, which depends, in part, on attracting young families.

If we don’t have the amenities to attract new people and the next generation of talent, we’re not going to be a great city in the decades ahead,,” Orlando said.

Not everyone agrees. When Orlando posted news of the petition and the effort to repeal the 51 percent rule to social media, the post received 15 likes but also reflected some residents’ opposition.

“I don’t want an ‘entertainment district’ in Pearland,” said Ramos Dane. “There are four movie theaters nearby, plenty of restaurants, golf courses, parks, shopping, and plenty more within driving distance.”

Some making online comments regarding the issue argued that they felt Pearland should focus attention on filling up empty storefronts in strip malls and alleviating traffic, while others worried the effort to repeal the rule is being led by developers who don’t have Pearland’s interests at heart.

Orlando said this isn’t the case, and said the people behind PEBC are local and represent a grassroots movement. He admitted that some people are sincerely opposed to the effort but said he believes most Pearland residents support expanded entertainment options.

In the past, some local religious leaders have spoken out against repealing the law, worrying that increased access to alcohol would lead to an erosion of the city’s values and to an increase in criminal activity and more drunken drivers.

The PEBC said it is working to proactively address such concerns.

“We’re working with the police to keep them involved, and they’re not actively going against it,” Thompson said. “But we’re running this by them to make sure (it’s something they can handle).”

Kamkar added that the effort is not just aimed at simply bringing in more alcohol-based establishments but also to provide families with places to hold events and celebrations.

“A lot of families have tried to do events in our city and they don’t have the facilities to do it,” he said. “They have to go elsewhere.”

Should the law be repealed, proponents said that any new alcohol-selling establishments wishing to open would have to petition City Council for a conditional-use permit. Businesses also can be restricted by zoning laws that only allow them to operate in certain parts of town, such as designated entertainment districts, they say.

“This isn’t going to be the wild, wild West with a bar on every corner,” Orlando said. “The bottom line is that no bar will be able to open that does not get approved by the City Council.”

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