Wilkinsburg leaders are advocating for a ballot referendum that would allow liquor licenses in the borough, which has been dry for nearly eight decades.
Tracey Evans, executive director of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corp., said allowing liquor licenses was listed as a goal in a 2010 comprehensive plan and business district revitalization plan, and she said the ability to serve alcohol would help the borough draw hotels and fine dining and chain restaurants.
"You're not going to draw someone in if they can't get a license," she said. The community development group is working to collect the required signatures -- more than 2,000 -- to get the referendum on the ballot in the May primary election.
Ms. Evans said the agency plans to post information about the proposed referendum on its website -- www.wilkinsburgcdc.org -- and Facebook page and encourages residents to leave comments.
Council President Jason Cohn said he thinks liquor licenses would benefit the borough from an economic development standpoint, but he said limiting the number of licenses and regulating the types of establishments that can hold them is important to avoid creating a nuisance.
If a referendum were approved, council would craft an ordinance similar to one passed by Forest Hills after voters OK'd liquor sales there in 2003. That ordinance requires license applicants to list everything from whether the applicant has ever been cited for a liquor code violation to the proposed seating capacity and type of menu the restaurant would offer.
Liquor licenses are issued by the state Liquor Control Board, but the law governing licenses calls for at least one public hearing on the matter in a municipality when an application is received.
The Forest Hills ordinance, in addition to holding a hearing, also requires a report and recommendation from the borough manager and police, among other things. The ordinance states that council's refusal to give its approval to a liquor license application would "be based on a finding that the proposed transfer would adversely affect the welfare, health, peace and morals of the borough or its residents."
Councilwoman Pamela Macklin said she's not opposed to the idea, but residents must decide. She said that while alcohol sales could be a boon for the business district, she also noted that Wilkinsburg is home to nearly 50 churches and a bar on every corner could be a nuisance.
She said council would have to "explore ... the pluses and the minuses."
Councilwoman Vanessa McCarthy-Johnson called the proposal "an excellent idea" and said that allowing liquor licenses would bring people to the business district and revenue to the borough.
She said residents were opposed to the idea of allowing liquor licenses a decade ago, the last time elected officials pushed for a referendum. Then, residents expressed concerns about nuisance bars and other problems associated with allowing the sale of alcohol.
Ms. McCarthy-Johnson said there were some problems outside the liquor store in the borough when it was open, which added to residents' concerns. That store was destroyed by fire in 2007 and never reopened.
This time, she said, officials will make sure to let residents weigh in on the proposal and be clear about its intent.
"We also need to educate," she said. "I think that's a huge piece" of ensuring the referendum's success.
Annie Siebert: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1613. Twitter: @AnnieSiebert.