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Bill advances to allow liquor stores next to schools and churches

wine liquor620Stores that sell beer, wine and liquor could spring up next to churches and schools under the terms of legislation approved March 18 by the House Judiciary Committee.

Existing law requires a buffer of at least 300 feet. But Mike Williams, lobbyist for the Circle K Corporation, said that has created problems for his client with the ability of churches and charter schools to locate in certain commercial areas.

“You have a number of churches, including the one I go to, that will ‘plant’ churches,” he said, setting up new congregations.

“And when you plant a church, you’re not going to always go out and buy a building,” Williams continued. “You’re going to rent a space when you only have 15 or 20 people starting the church.”

More to the point, he said, those meeting spaces often end up in strip malls or commercial areas. The result, Williams said, is creating a 300-foot perimeter around the site where a store cannot get a state license to sell alcoholic beverages.

The same is true when charter schools rent space in commercial areas, as they are considered public schools.

SB1419 eliminates that requirement if the shop is at least 4,500 square feet, offers fresh produce and does not have a drive-through window for alcoholic beverages.

Opponents have argued that produce requirement is meaningless, allowing a store to simply sell a few apples or bananas at the counter.

But Williams said the law requires the company building the store to submit plans to the liquor department. And he said that allows the agency to reject the license request if the director believes the produce is not really part of the store’s business.

The legislation, which now goes to the full House, also contains a provision designed to help owners of existing stores with liquor licenses who want to sell them.

Under current law, they can continue to sell alcoholic beverages if a church or school moves in nearby. But the license cannot be transferred, sold or even passed to a relative.

This legislation overrules that restriction provided liquor sales do not exceed 40 percent of total sales.

The 4-2 vote came over the objections of Lori Fitzhugh who said she is a neighborhood activist from west Phoenix who has fought liquor licenses. She said not all churches and schools are in commercial areas.

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