PRC Resources

PRC in the News

from the May 10, 2010 edition of The Birmingham News

Birmingham City Councilman Steven Hoyt Seeks Liquor Store Limit in Neighborhoods

Birmingham's struggling inner-city neighborhoods are flooded with liquor stores and easy access to beer and wine, and a moratorium on new licenses is needed, one Birmingham city councilman says.

Councilman Steven Hoyt wants a halt on city-issued alcohol permits until tougher rules are written to limit the number of alcohol retailers in neighborhoods. The City Council recently approved a resolution from Hoyt asking the council's public safety committee to study the issue.

"Limit the number of beer and wine places you can have in a community, particularly in a high-density community," Hoyt said. "Disproportionately it occurs more in the African-American neighborhoods than it ought to. In our efforts to increase the quality of life, we need to issue a moratorium."
Hoyt, who represents western Birmingham, including Ensley, said several stores in his district form clusters of alcohol outlets. He wants the city to ask the Legislature for more authority to deny alcohol licenses.

The council's power to restrict sales was last increased in 2006, with a law giving the city the right to deny liquor licenses because of an establishment's proximity to a school or child-care facility and "any other reason that poses a risk." The law was written by state Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham.

But Hoyt wants the council to have more power to restrict licenses based in part on the prevalence of other establishments.

"We've said in the past that having a beer and wine license is a privilege," Hoyt said. "That doesn't mean that everyone opening a convenience store has a right to sell liquor."

However, Councilman Johnathan Austin, chairman of the public safety committee, said the city must balance social concerns against interfering with legal commerce. Austin said there are guidelines on the issue.

"The law does not prevent a business from opening up in our community," he said. "What it does is give perimeters in which to operate. If we were to issue a moratorium city-wide on liquor licenses, there is no legislation in place where the business cannot go straight across the street to Jefferson County and get its liquor license."

Complaints about liquor licenses are common, but more information is needed about Hoyt's proposal, said Councilwoman Valerie Abbott, also a member of the public safety committee.

"We can't put a moratorium on the granting of liquor licenses unless we do it for a finite period of time and some kind of goal at the end of the moratorium," Abbott said. "I certainly understand what the problem is, but finding a legal way to do it without discriminating against people is the challenge. We routinely lose in court if we deny somebody due process."

Hoyt's argument is supported by a report from Kathryn Stewart at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, a nonprofit group that focuses on individual and social problems associated with alcohol and drugs.

"The proliferation of alcohol outlets makes a huge difference in a variety of alcohol- related items, including drunk driving and violence," Stewart said.

She provided several suggestions for cities to curb the density of alcohol-selling businesses, such as ending license approvals in saturated areas and increasing the distance between those establishments.

Hoyt compared his request to limiting the number of payday lenders. The concentration of certain businesses hampers the development of communities, he said.

"These kind of establishments breed crime," he said of the alcohol establishments. "There's a direct correlation between alcohol and drugs. Does commerce come at the expense of quality of life? Which is more important?"