A Metro Council member is pursuing policy changes that would discourage liquor outlets from over-populating low-income neighborhoods in East Baton Rouge Parish.
But a temporary moratorium on liquor licenses in part of the parish, approved earlier this month, has resulted in one store owner, Wayel Abdulrab of Southside Supermarket, suing the city-parish for potentially hurting his business.
On June 8, the council approved a 60-day moratorium on issuing liquor permits in Old South Baton Rouge. The boundaries in the moratorium are 18th Street to the Mississippi River between Roosevelt Street and Government Street. The moratorium excludes Beauregard Town and Nicholson Drive and Highland Road.
On Wednesday, Councilwoman Tara Wicker will ask the council to extend the moratorium to 90 days.
Wicker said she wants time to explore improvements to the notification process that a liquor store owner has to take to inform the neighborhood it will be opening.
An owner must put up a notice of intent on the location and there is a 15-day window for the public to protest the license, said Chris Cranford, director of the city-parish Alcoholic Beverage Control office.
Licenses are approved by the ABC board.
Wicker also wants the ABC to have the authority to reject a liquor permit based on factors such as too many liquor outlets in a single neighborhood.
She said the ABC board generally must approve licenses that meet city-parish zoning and permit requirements.
“There’s no consideration of over-saturation of black communities,” Wicker said. “There’s a direct link between high concentration of alcohol in black communities and the decline of property values.”
Old South Baton Rouge has at least 10 liquor stores, according to an ABC count.
Wicker said the final straw for her was Southside Supermarket, which recently opened on Thomas H. Delpit Drive in a former day-care center.
She said the sign posted to notify neighbors it was seeking a liquor license was not easily visible, which kept residents from protesting the license.
Southside Supermarket was operating under a temporary liquor permit, and was initially unable to receive a permanent liquor license because of the moratorium.
Abdulrab, the store owner, filed suit June 10 against the city-parish, calling the moratorium “unconstitutional” and petitioning for a temporary restraining order against the city-parish in its issuance of the moratorium.
A judge has since ordered the ABC to issue Abdulrab a temporary liquor license set to expire June 30, the date of his next scheduled hearing.
Abdulrab’s attorney, Chris Alexander, said the moratorium prevents his client from being able to run his business which reaps most of its revenue from alcohol sales.
Alexander also said the boundaries of the moratorium create “a serious equal-protection issue.”
“It is extremely narrowly drawn and, for reasons unknown to me, excludes large parts of the parish with just as many alcohol establishments and just as much crime as the small part of South Baton Rouge subject to the moratorium,” he said. “So (Abdulrab is) being discriminated against based strictly upon the geographic location of their business and nothing more.”
Alexander said that while he is sympathetic to Wicker’s motives, his client followed local laws and regulations and should not be punished.
“We will do whatever is necessary and appropriate to ensure that these men are able to sustain their livelihood and support their families,” he said.
Assistant Parish Attorney Joseph Scott argues that the Southside Supermarket’s license was never revoked or rejected. The store was not able to receive a permanent license because of the moratorium, he said, but can still receive one after the ban is lifted.
Some other council members with blighted communities in their districts have expressed interest in similar studies.
At the June 8 meeting, council members Ronnie Edwards and Donna Collins-Lewis said they have similar concerns about the Melrose East and Zion City/Glen Oaks areas.
Melrose East has 15 liquor stores and Zion City/Glen Oaks has six, according to the ABC.
Scott said other council members have asked about moratoriums, “but we’re going to wait and see how this (lawsuit) shakes out until we make any new moves.”
Cranford said he thinks the current permit approval process is effective.
Southside Supermarket is the only business affected by the current moratorium, he said.
“What you’re doing now is you’re taking business owners and taking their time and money and putting them on hold,” Cranford said. “I think before they start blanketing things, we ought to look at the effects and fallout (of the moratorium).”