The result of the petition drive that was initiated by GIANT Food Stores, LLC was successful. Now the next step is to secure the win by the majority of the residents voting “yes” in this May’s election.

This is the second installment of our three-part story covering the historical steps of a movement to change the liquor license rules in three “dry” townships in Chester County, Pennsylvania. In the first part we covered the details of the actual petition drive which was to actually get the referendum question on the May 15th Primary Election ballot for the following townships:

  • East Goshen Township
  • Thornbury Township
  • Westtown Township

In this installment, we will cover the results of the drive and review the details of what would need to be completed in the municipals if in fact the referendums do pass.

Results of the Petition Drive

On Monday, March 5th , all certified signed petitions were filed at the Chester County Voter Services by individuals representing Giant Food Stores.

After filing the petitions, each petition would have been examined by the staff in the county’s Voter Services office. The material within the petitions is examined for any errors or defects, alterations made after signing, or if completed filings did not contain the required number of valid signatures. If the petitions had contained any defects or if the sufficient numbers of signatures were not reached, then the petitions would be rejected and any and all rejected petitions would have been returned to the circulator.

The officials from the county’s Voter Services office would then meet, during a public forum, to determine whether to accept or reject remaining petitions. After which, if the petitions are approved, and there are no challenges, the referendum questions will be added to the ballots. Currently, the Voter Services office claims that these are the steps that were followed and the Giant Food Stores petition has met these requirements.

On the 29th of March, the Chester County Voter Services posted a document on their site showing three ballot questions that will be on the May 15th ballot.

  • East Goshen Township Referendum: Do you favor the granting of liquor licenses for the sale of liquor in East Goshen Township of Chester County?
  • Thornbury Township Referendum: Do you favor the granting of liquor licenses for the sale of liquor in Thornbury Township of Chester County?
  • Westtown Township Referendum: Do you favor the granting of liquor licenses for the sale of liquor in Westtown Township of Chester County?

We contacted the county Voter Services and Christopher Brand, the Director of External Communications and Community Relations for GIANT Food Stores, LLC, and both confirmed the above three questions would be on the May 15 th Primary Election ballot.

All registered voters in each of the locations listed above can vote on the referendum question. Normally the Primary Election is only opened to the Republicans and Democrats registered voters. However, this specific ballot question will be open for all registered voters. So if you are an independent voter, you will get an opportunity to vote in a primary election.

What If?

If the ballot question is voted in favor for the change, this will allow Giant customers the availability to purchase beer and wine. However, the vote will also open the door for other establishments like restaurants and bars/taverns.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Code has a set limit on the number of licenses that may be granted allowing the retail sale of wine and beer beverages. Currently, there may be only one license for every 3,000 inhabitants in any county. Therefore, in Chester County, where the last census was 498,886, there should only be 166 licenses, but there’s actually more than 325 retail liquor licenses in Chester County.

The county has more retail liquor licenses than the quota allows because many licenses date back to before the quota was established in 1939. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (“PLCB”) cannot issue new retail liquor licenses in the county, because it exceed its quota, but it does not refuse to renew licenses and the PLCB could approve the transfer of an existing liquor licenses across municipal boundaries within the same county.

Now in the case of East Goshen Township, where the population was a little over 18,000, up to 6 licenses would be permitted, but only existing licenses in the county could be transferred, with the PLCB approval, from neighboring municipality to East Goshen Township.  But it is important to understand, there is no limit on the number of licenses that may be transferred into the townships.

However, There is a Loophole

If the voters do approve the referendum in any and/or all the townships, there are possible loopholes to the quota limitation.

In 2002, legislation was passed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly, to enable the issuance of liquor licenses for economic development even after a county’s quota has been reached. Therefore, the PLCB may issue restaurant and eating place retail dispenser licenses without regard to county quota restrictions for the purpose of economic development in a municipality for premises situated within any of the following:

  1. A Keystone Opportunity Zone (“KOZ”) established under the authority of the act of October 6. 1998 (P.L. 705. No. 92). known as the “Keystone Opportunity Zone and Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone Act:” (73 P. S. § § 820.101—820.1309).
  2. An Enterprise Zone (“EZ”) as designated by the Department of Community and Economic Developmentin accordance with the Neighborhood Assistance Act (62 P. S. § § 2081—2089).
  3. A municipality that has approved the issuance of a restaurant or eating place retail dispenser license for the purpose of local economic development.

Therefore, in the case of East Goshen Township, they could certify that the proposed licensed premises are situated in a zone or an area designated for economic development. But in this case, the township would have to approve, in the form of an ordinance or resolution, the business, which is located in an economic development area.

East Goshen Township’s Futurist Committee feels that allowing liquor sales in the township would be one key step to help revitalize and expand future restaurant interest in the township’s town center – to be named Goshenville Town Center. Goshenville was the original name of what is now West and East Goshen Townships.

Perhaps also in the future, the township will approve a “sidewalk” cafe ordinance that would allow restaurants to build a deck or patio for outdoor seating. Such an arrangement would work well with the future sidewalk/trails the township is looking to build along the Paoli corridor.

Local Municipalities Plans, Policies and Ordinance

The Liquor Code allows a township to regulate zoning and to enforce any local ordinances and codes dealing with health, welfare, peace and morals of the municipality. However, a township could not simply deny any and all transfer of existing licenses. The municipality could attempt to prove, in the Court of Common Pleas, such licenses to be detrimental to a community.

With the expansion of liquor in the townships, the local municipalities will need to review and modify current codes, rules and regulations. For example, East Goshen Township has only one rule regarding alcoholic beverages. (Chapter 163: Parks and Recreations Areas / § 163-3 Rules and regulations. P. Intoxicating beverages prohibited. The possession or use of alcoholic beverages in any park is prohibited.) Most likely the municipalities will need to create code/ordinance that would cover such things as: prohibition of drinking, carrying or possessing alcoholic beverages in public areas; possession of open containers and presumed intent; lawful use of private premises; and violations and penalties of violating the said code.

Logistics of the sale of wine and beer in the stores

There are two GIANT Food Stores not far from each other, approximately 4 miles apart. One store located on Boot Road in East Goshen Township and the other on Route 3 in Westtown Township. Both stores would most likely require some renovations. The East Goshen store is an older store and already has a seated area. However, the Westtown store, which recently received a complete rebuild last year, would seem to be the better choice for a beer garden motif. The store has large open space located in the front-right side of the store – currently filled with other various products.

So the question is, how many available and transferable licenses does GIANT own in Chester County? Will they have enough to cover these three townships? Or, will they be forced to select the most profitable location(s)?  We asked Christopher Brand, but he could not comment on how many licenses they currently possessed.

For many voters in these three townships, it’s an easy decision. But we believe the decision should be well thought out. The voters should review the big picture. How will the sale of liquor affect your community? In our last installment, we will review the pros and cons of the potential changes with regards to liquor sales in these three townships.