Council OKs bill banning new takeout beer stores

Posted: December 12, 2003

Store owners who want to offer takeout beer and malt liquor would be prohibited from such sales without special permission from the city, under a bill adopted yesterday.

City Council also was expected to vote on a controversial bill that would allow a Wal-Mart in Port Richmond, but held that measure for action until next Thursday.

Council gave unanimous approval to Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell's bill that would restrict new beer takeout stores known as "stop-and-gos" in Center City, West, North and South Philadelphia. Anyone wishing to open such a store would have to receive a variance from the city's zoning board. Current store owners do not need such a zoning variance.

While many such stores are good neighbors, others allow customers to loiter, commit crimes and drink alcohol outside their establishments, residents have complained.

"We have to find some way to give people relief in neighborhoods," Blackwell said. "Albeit this is America, neighborhoods do have a right to a say in what businesses are there and how they operate."

Mayor Street can sign the bill into law, veto it, or notify Council that he intends to let it become law without his signature. Under city rules, the mayor also has one other option for bills adopted yesterday or next Thursday, the last two Council sessions of the year: He can choose to pocket veto a measure by taking no action and allowing it to die.

The mayor told reporters yesterday that he had not made a decision on the bill.

Blackwell's proposal would not affect existing stop-and-go stores. Of the 150 stores in the city licensed to sell takeout beer and malt liquor, 23 have violated state liquor-control laws since 2001, according to the state Liquor Control Board. Most were cited for selling alcohol to minors or for allowing minors to congregate around their establishments.

On the Wal-Mart store issue, Councilman Frank DiCicco, the bill's sponsor, said he wanted to consult with the city's attorneys on a question raised by attorneys for Northeastern Hospital, which sits adjacent to the proposed Wal-Mart and is opposed to DiCicco's bill.

DiCicco said the question involves whether the site, the abandoned G.B. Goldman Paper Co. near Allegheny Avenue and Tulip Street, is zoned for industrial or for commercial use. The property would have to be zoned commercial before a Wal-Mart could be built.

DiCicco said he believes the property is zoned for a commercial use, but, even if it is not, his bill would change the zoning.

"No matter what it is, or would have been, this bill would change it to what we want it to be," DiCicco said.

But the councilman said he wanted to make sure he was on firm legal footing before bringing his bill up for a final vote.

Residents and union members packed Council's chambers in City Hall expecting a vote on the issue, only to be told that they would have to wait until next week.

Some residents support the project and believe it will rid the neighborhood of an eyesore, provide jobs, and give people another place to shop. Other residents oppose it, arguing that it will increase traffic, make it difficult for ambulances to get to the hospital, and muscle out other nearby businesses.

Members of a food-workers union oppose the project and say Wal-Mart underpays workers. Members of the city's building and construction trades unions support it because of the construction jobs it would create.

Contact staff writer Anthony S. Twyman at 215-854-2664 or atwyman@phillynews.com.

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