Borough considers amending liquor license setback

The borough assembly will take up a proposed change to the Kenai Peninsula Borough code requiring liquor stores to be at least 500 feet from a church or school.

The borough has long maintained rules more stringent than the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which only requires 200 feet of walking distance.

The borough currently requires 500 feet as the crow flies and has required up to 1,000 feet in the past, according to assembly member Dale Bagley, who introduced the ordinance Tuesday evening.

Bagley said the question arose when the assembly held its meeting in Homer in September when a store owner applied for a liquor license transfer to Ninilchik, where the store would be within 500 feet of two churches and a school.

“Due to our code, we had to vote down that proposal, but we actually had an assembly member vote for it, even though he really couldn’t or shouldn’t without good reasons,” Bagley said. “But it really brought up some good discussion.”

Bagley questioned whether the 500 feet was arbitrary and suggested dropping the requirement to 300 feet of walking distance, which would still set the borough’s requirement slightly higher than the state’s, he said.

The borough enacted a process for protesting liquor licenses in 1985 requiring 500 feet, but later enacted an ordinance allowing for exceptions as long as the liquor licensed store would not interfere with the access, flow of traffic or operations of the school, church or playground.

Bagley said there were only two other communities that required more than the state minimum — Valdez, which requires 500 feet, and Bethel, which requires 300 feet.

“There would only be three communities, counting us, that are different than the distance that the ABC board requires as well as different from the walking pattern that the ABC board has,” Bagley said.

Assembly member Kelly Cooper asked why the assembly would modify the code now, especially while the state is deliberating its regulations on the marijuana industry.

“I understand it’s a discussion we should have, but I’m not understanding why we should be looking at that at this point,” Cooper said.

Although the ordinance is not set for public hearing until the Dec. 8 assembly meeting, several people protested the proposed ordinance Tuesday evening.

Debbie Cary, part owner of the Inlet View Restaurant & Bar in Ninilchik, said she protested the change because it could allow more liquor stores in communities and increase access for youth.

“I know you may think that I am protesting this because I do not want more competition,” Cary said. “I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. For me, this is about the children.”

Sabrina Ferguson, a Ninilchik teenager, testified against the ordinance, saying teenagers often get alcohol by giving money to someone older than 21 or from another illegitimate source and said increasing access could only make the problem worse.

“Drug and alcohol use is one of the biggest concerns when it comes to peer pressure,” Ferguson said. “Everyone knows that if a teenager wants something, they will find a way to get it. By adding more locations to a closer proximity, we are only making it easier.”

Bob Ferguson, also a part owner of the Inlet View Restaurant & Bar and Sabrina Ferguson’s father, attended but chose not to testify, saying that Cary and Sabrina Ferguson had “basically covered it.”

The assembly voted to introduce the ordinance for discussion in December.

Bagley said his goal for the ordinance was to open the discussion because the question had been raised as to whether the current rules were fair in the protest over the liquor license in September.

“I think it’ll be a good discussion to have, and at the end of the day, I’m okay with whatever the assembly decides,” Bagley said. “But we need to talk about it just so that we’re on board with future proposals from around the borough.”

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizbaeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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