Upper Arlington Liquor Issue Has Some Voters Undecided

Some Upper Arlington voters are undecided about a measure on the ballot that could cause some restaurants and businesses to lose their liquor licenses.(Photo: Flickr)
Some Upper Arlington voters are undecided about a measure on the ballot that could cause some restaurants and businesses to lose their liquor licenses.(Photo: Flickr)

Upper Arlington voters next week will decide what many believe could lead to the success or failure of the city’s new entertainment district along Lane Avenue. Voters will decide whether to allow alcohol sales in some parts of the district that are now “dry.” WOSU reports the issue has divided and confused Upper Arlington voters.

Lane Avenue in Upper Arlington has been a construction zone for more than a year. The Whole Foods store soon will open its major expansion. A hotel and apartments are going up. There are plans for even more restaurants and bars.

The city says this is what the community has called for: more places to dine, shop and be entertained. Now the city wants make it easier for new restaurant and bar owners by allowing alcohol sales throughout the district.

Caroline Holtgreven who recently moved to the neighborhood supports the development.

“I’m kind of excited about it. We moved here from Short North so we kind of like to think it’s like our little suburban Short North,” Holtgreven said.

But not everyone thinks the community entertainment district will be good for Upper Arlington. Some area residents, like Nancy Andreano, say the additional bars and the transient nature of the hotel and apartments will elicit crime.

“I don’t think there’s any question that that will lead to crime and a decline in the neighborhood,” Andreano said.

And Kirk Arnott worries about a flood of traffic on the neighborhoods.

“The concern, of course, is if there’s more traffic and business down there without enough parking it creeps up into the neighborhood.”

The need for the ballot issue arose when Upper Arlington leaders discovered parts of the entertainment district are “dry,” meaning new businesses will not be able sell alcohol in the “entertainment” district. So city leaders are asking voters to make the entire district “wet” and allow for five additional liquor licenses.

Laura Joyce, who lives about a block north of Lane Avenue worries what the development will do to property values.

“Any property owner knows that if you live in the vicinity of a large apartment complex it is not good property value sense,” Joyce said.

But Mark Frye, who also lives near Lane Avenue, disagrees and supports the project.

“They all stand out in front of the house and talk about how ‘look what they’re doing. It’s going to be terrible, it’s going to be terrible.’ Well, it’s just like everywhere else,” Frye said. “They’re not putting a Wal-Mart down there. They’re putting in very attractive buildings with nice little shops like any other place. I just don’t think it’s going to be bad.”

The vote could have an impact on the city’s tax base. With little undeveloped land, revenue streams in Upper Arlington are limited, and the city relies heavily on residential property taxes. The more business areas Upper Arlington can develop, the more income and business property taxes it can collect, potentially providing tax relief to homeowners.

But it can be tough to sell. For example, in the 1980s, Micro Center, then located on Lane Avenue, was looking to expand. But the city said “no” to the computer store because it would encroach in the residential zone. The electronics company left, and so did the tax revenue.

Property owner Kirk Arnott said he would like to see the tax burden lifted, but his concern about the development is unchanged.

“I don’t have any problem with the city trying to find ways to bring in more money. But I just think they’ve been rather clumsy in the way they’ve gone about this one,” Arnott said.

Arnott refers to the legal wrinkle in the debate. It’s unclear how the measure will affect current liquor licenses holders. If the measure fails, some attorneys say current restaurants, bars and retailers could lose their ability to sell alcohol. City attorney’s disagree.

The issue has neighbors divided, and it has some voters undecided. Neither Nancy Andreano nor Kirk Arnott want to see businesses lose their liquor licenses, but neither is sure how they will vote.

“I truly don’t know. I think it’s futile. On the one hand I’m not a negative voter in the fact that I don’t like to vote against something simply because other people have made mistakes,” Andreano said. “And, again, city council did not do their homework.”

“Undecided voters are generally a myth I believe, but I am not 100 percent sure what I’m going to do,” Arnott said. “But I think I have a feeling the issue is going to pass without much trouble. But I think just to be ornery I just might vote against it to reflect some of the concerns of my neighbors here.”

Upper Arlington leaders say they are confident voters will pass the measure. But the city is devising alternate plans if voters do not pass it.

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