By Jeff Noble, Staff Writer
By a slim 14 votes, voters in Williamsburg said “yes” to the sale of alcoholic beverages by the drink Tuesday. The final tally was 533 in favor, to 519 against.
Of the city’s six precincts and absentee ballots, the “yes” vote carried five precincts. The “no” vote carried one city precinct, as well as the machine and walk-in absentee votes.
It means liquor, beer and wine can be sold in larger restaurants in Williamsburg’s city limits — those that seat at least 100 people and get 50 percent of their gross revenues from the sale of food. There can also be a separate license for restaurants that seat at least 50 people, where wine can be sold by the drink. There can be other options, according to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control board in a Barbourville meeting before that city’s Feb. 6 vote, where they told the audience, “You have to have the right kind of license for the kind of drink you serve (with food).”
Previously, Williamsburg was “dry.” The last time a local option election was put to the voters in the city was in 2006, where voters rejected the sale of alcohol by the drink.
Both supporters and opponents for alcohol sales were stunned, surprised and shocked by the final outcome, which came at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday evening. The announcement was made by Whitley County Court Clerk Kay Schwartz, inside the old Fiscal Courtroom of the Whitley County Courthouse in downtown Williamsburg.
“We wanted to see things change in the area. We were tired of the same-oh, same-oh. I’m very happy,” said John Bowen, one of the supporters of the group Citizens for Change, who was joined by fellow supporter Danny Davenport as they kept tabs on the precinct totals.
After the election was made official, Bowen said the vote was about change and choice. “We were hoping this will bring some jobs to Williamsburg, and some new restaurants, and help bring people to the area. I’m not a big alcohol person, but I believe in freedom of choice.”
Davenport joined Bowen in a brief yell of “Yeah,” after the final tally was made public.
“Ninety-seven percent of America is where you can get alcohol. We’ve been in the lower three percent. I’m happy for jobs, restaurants and freedom of choice. It’s a positive. It’s been a long-time coming,” Davenport commented.
Outside the courthouse, anti-alcohol supporter Pat Marple spoke about the outcome, and agreed the margin of victory was what he called, “real, real close.”
“The voters have spoken, and have decided to make things different from what they were. They decided on what direction they want this city to go. Time will tell. It will change Williamsburg, but how I don’t know. I’m proud of the supporters. They put their heart into it, and I don’t blame them. I blame myself,” Marple noted.
Marple said his main concern was what would happen next in the city, if the sale of alcohol by the drink could lead to other changes, such as alcoholic beverage sales by the package. And he pointed to the turnout, which Marple said was lower than the vote on the question six years ago.
“I think having a low turnout was the difference in 2006. Then it was 790 to 577 against alcohol. Today, it was 533-519.”
Marple also brought up the possibility of a recount, and would talk to County Court Clerk Schwartz on what to do. “If she wants to do it, I will. If not, I’ll drop it.”
When asked by the media about the final vote, Schwartz commented, “I’m very shocked. I didn’t think it would turn out this way. It’s a sad day. Just a personal opinion.”
The winning vote by the “yes” supporters, and the outcome of the election made official afterwards, means Williamsburg is now in a 60-day waiting period, where the Williamsburg City Council would have to pass an ordinance officially allowing the sale and consumption of alcohol by the drink. Williamsburg would have to name a state ABC (Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control board) administrator who would go over the license applications and pick out the winning ones. In turn, those winning applicants would be turned over to the state ABC board for approval. According to state law, Williamsburg would become “wet” on May 18.
During a city council meeting on March 12, Williamsburg Mayor Roddy Harrison told council members that two developers have each committed to building one restaurant in the city, if the vote went in favor. He stopped short of saying who those developers were, or which restaurants might locate in Williamsburg, but did say the restaurants would more than likely be built a year after the vote, if the city voted “yes.”
Harrison said Tuesday evening after the election, “I thought it would be a really close vote. My thoughts are, the people have decided, and that’s the way it should be. I’m going to get back on the phone and tell those restaurant guys, ‘The vote went in favor. Now hold up your end of the bargain.’”
Tuesday’s vote saw a total of 1,052 people cast their ballot in the city of Williamsburg, which came out to 35 percent of the total registered voters in the city, which Schwartz said was 2,987.
Of the city’s six precincts, the College Hill precinct at Williamsburg City School (Precinct No. 29) had the biggest turnout. It was also the only precinct carried by the “no” vote, with 196 voting against, to 166 voting in favor of alcohol by the drink.
The “no” vote also won in overall absentee ballots, winning by a margin of 23 to 11.
But the “yes” vote prevailed in the city’s other five precincts. At the City School precinct (Precinct No. 38), also at Williamsburg City School, it carried by a 48 to 40 margin. The “yes” vote also won in the Highland Park precinct on U. S. 25W in the north end (Precinct No. 16) by a margin of 134 to 121. The Courthouse precinct downtown (Precinct No. 24) saw the “wet” vote taking the upper hand, with 101 voters saying “yes,” to 78 saying “no.” At the Depot-Armory precinct at the Whitley County Public Library (Precinct No. 23), it was the “yes” carrying by 59 to 56. And in the Savoy precinct on U.S. 25W in the city’s south end (Precinct No. 31), the “yes” forces won by a margin of 14 to 5.
Williamsburg becomes the second city in the Tri-County to vote in favor of alcohol sales, and while voters approved the sale of liquor, wine and beer by the drink, package sales of alcoholic beverages remain illegal in the city. On Feb. 14, Corbin voters approved the sale of package liquor, wine and beer. Presently, the sale of alcohol by the drink is allowed in Corbin at larger restaurants.
Unlike the Corbin vote last month, a local option election to allow package sales of liquor, wine and beer in the city of London did not pass. Forces against the package sales voted “no” on March 6. London continues to sell alcoholic beverages by the drink in larger restaurants, including on Sundays. And on Feb. 7, voters in the city of Barbourville defeated allowing both the sale of package liquor, beer and wine both by the package and by the drink.
City elects to sell alcohol by the drink
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