Liquor sales OK'd in Chapel Hill referendum

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

Nearly two-thirds of the voters in Chapel Hill approved the town's retail liquor package store referendum on Tuesday.

With 920 town residents registered to vote there, 554 votes approved the referendum, according to unofficial results. There were 348 people voting to permit package stores and 192 people voting against liquor.

Approval of the referendum also means that wine may be sold at package stores as well as hard liquor.

"That's good," Mayor Carl Cooper said at about 8:30 p.m. when told the results.

He might have known, based on his observation of recycling bins and their contents.

"The bulk of it is glass," Cooper said of wine and liquor bottles in one bin. There was a preponderance of beer cans in the bin for recyclable aluminum, the mayor said.

Cooper spoke after having stopped at his church to pick up some material for his wife.

"I felt that it would pass," Town Administrator Mike Hatten said, "but I didn't think it would pass 2-1. The folks I spoke with ... didn't seem to have an issue with having a package store in town."

The referendum was sought by the town's Board of Mayor and Aldermen well before it adopted its 2012-13 budget last summer. Town leaders adopted a budget that would be unaffected if the referendum failed. The budget projects spending at $1.9 million. The town has certificates of deposit valued at $500,000.

"We have sufficient reserves," Hatten said. "When we adopted our 2012-13 budget, we did not put any revenue in that assumes we'd get anything from liquor sales.

"If it passes," Hatten said before referendum results were known, "the plan would be - with the ordinance already in place - next Monday, when the board meets at 5 p.m. in Town Hall, then the board would then ask that the beer board serve as the liquor board, or an alcoholic beverage commission for the town."

The town's ordinance allows only two stores selling wine and liquor.

"We felt like three would be too many, and one would not be enough," Hatten said. "We'll see how they work before we consider whether to have a third. The economy is going to dictate it."

Population and revenue would be among the criteria to decide whether a third store should be permitted.

The ordinance was amended in July when aldermen eliminated part of the law that specified size limitations on liquor stores. Also that month, the board eliminated a residency requirement for liquor store permit holders.