Wilkinsburg petition to apply for liquor licenses falls short

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A campaign to enable restaurants in Wilkinsburg to apply for liquor licenses has fallen short, the borough's Community Development Corp. has announced.

The corporation needed 2,010 signatures to push a referendum allowing restaurants to sell beer, wine or liquor onto the April 24 primary election ballot. They collected only 844.

Tracey Evans, the corporation's executive director, said because this was the first time a referendum drive was attempted, she was not surprised by the outcome.

"I knew that was a lot of signatures to collect," she said. "But I do think it's frustrating for the businesses."

Wilkinsburg, a community with a population of fewer than 16,000 people, allows people to drink in their homes and for restaurants to have BYOB policies. There is one beer distributor, and for decades, the community had a state store that sold wine and liquor until it burned down in 2007 and wasn't replaced.

But since 1935, the sale of liquor licenses has been outlawed.

This year, Wilkinsburg Community Development launched a campaign to turn the long-dry community wet. Citing a business district revitalization plan adopted by the borough council in 2010, the corporation has argued that allowing restaurants to sell alcohol would attract new businesses and brighten the community's fortunes.

To get the issue on the ballot, the corporation needed to collect from registered voters 2,010 signatures. That number was determined using the number of votes cast in the November 2012 election, with 2,010 equal to 25 percent of the total ballots cast for the office that received the highest number of votes.

Nineteen volunteer residents and 15 local businesses collected signatures during the mandated three-week collection period, which concluded March 12.

Rebecca Martin, project coordinator for the corporation, said volunteers told her that they encountered mainly supportive residents, but said they had trouble finding enough registered voters to meet the necessary quota.

The liquor license referendum will not be on the ballot in April, and the failure of the signature collection campaign means it may not be pursued for another two years. But in 2015, the corporation plans to try again, and Ms. Evans believes they may have better luck then.

Two years from now, the signature collection period will not be preceded by a presidential election, which is a good thing for them, Ms. Evans said. There are usually fewer votes cast in an off-year election, and that will in turn lower the number of signatures needed to get the issue to referendum.

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This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To subscribe: http://press.post-gazette.com/ Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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