PARK HILL: The idea to make this neighborhood wet has expanded countywide.

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  • PARK HILL: The idea to make this neighborhood ‘wet’ has expanded countywide.

Terry Hartwick, president and CEO of the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, gave me a headsup this morning on a coming drive to open all of Pulaski County, including Jacksonville and parts of Sherwood and North Little Rock currently “dry,” to alcohol sales.

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The plan would require a state law change, rather than a petition drive to put the proposal on the ballot.

The short version is this: The law change would allow County Judge Buddy Villines to call an election to make all dry parts of the county wet. It would be justified on the ground that the four political subdivisions in northern Pulaski County that voted themselves dry many years ago no longer exist and thus no good way exists to petition for a change of status in those areas. The law would allow some deviation from the precise boundaries of the old dry areas in the vote.

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Hartwick said the law would be written to leave municipalities with a means through code enforcement to regulate where alcohol outlets might go. He notes that retail alcohol store permits are already limited by population and Pulaski is already at its limit.

Hartwick said the idea has been percolating a good while. It began as another push to make Park Hill wet so that the commercial strip on JFK Boulevard could develop with restaurants. But Hartwick said others had expressed an interest and the idea has grown, with support from other areas, particularly with Little Rock Air Force Base at Jacksonville in mind. He’s been talking with legislators about it and the alcohol industry. (Retailers who currently sell to existing private clubs in dry areas could be expected to fight the idea because regular permit holders could buy from wholesalers.)

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“It’s time to bring these areas into the 21st Century,” said Hartwick.

Traditional alcohol foes, generally with religious ties, can be expected to oppose the idea, even if the proposed legislation applies only to Pulaski County. Such legislation might also be viewed as an option worth widening to other counties, however. By Hartwick’s legal research, 26 counties have a mix of wet and dry precincts.

This will be sold as an economic development tool, as Benton County did in its recent countywide election to take the county wet. That was backed by this report. North Little Rock leaders may seek a similar study here.

The following background was prepared by a lawyer, Justin Allen of the Wright firm, working on the issue for Hartwick’s ad hoc group. It explains the legal thinking so far, which is still evolving:

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