A proposition overturning alcohol restrictions in bars and restaurants in the Heights former “dry zone” is on its way to the ballot, and some are likely less than pleased.
Currently, businesses serving alcohol in the Heights “dry zone” are required to operate as private clubs, meaning restaurants must create a non-profit arm of their business, charge membership fees, and patrons must join that “private club” if they wish to drink at local watering holes. In recent months, however, the Houston Heights Restaurant Coalition called for an election to overturn that section of the Heights remaining dry ordinance to make such sales more efficient, and the proposition went before the Houston City Council Wednesday afternoon for approval for a spot in the November election.
“Last year, the voters overwhelmingly said they wanted to modernize alcohol sales rules in the Heights in order to bring in a new grocery store like H-E-B,” Scot Luther, head of the Heights Restaurant PAC, said in the June announcement. “Changing this law will support our current hospitality businesses in the Heights and help eliminate burdensome fees and red tape.”
Several restauranteurs, including Harold’s in the Heights, told The Leader in September they would be in favor of further modernizing the Heights’ dry laws, and now that could be well on its way. Additionally, at least one council member, Ellen Cohen (District C), has shown support of the proposition, though she is not eligible to vote.
“I’ll go on record as being for it, because the fact of the matter is, we know that private membership exists in a lot of businesses in the area, so I don’t think that in and of itself [this proposition] would have that dramatic of an effect,” she said.
However, there has been significant pushback from opponents, citing the short-term tunnel vision of the plan.
“They’ve let the monster out, and I don’t know if there’s any stopping this,” resident Stephen Lackey told The Leader in June. “I think the new people who moved here don’t understand the ramifications of lifting this in the grand scheme of things — it’s very short sighted.”
Additionally, others such as Heights stalwart Anne Sloan argue that the premise of the two ordinances in relation to each other are not remotely similar.
“Inviting bars to come into our neighborhood is quite different from allowing supermarkets to sell liquor to be consumed off-premises,” Sloan said. “There are wine bars, sports bars, etc. We currently have a bourbon bar that has remained fairly tame as bars go, but do we really want to promote our neighborhood as a haven for bars? That is why I remain adamantly opposed to the current petition. I hope that city council backs our concerns.”
According to documents from the city, the Houston Heights Restaurant Coalition (with assistance from Texas Petition Strategies) collected 1,765 signatures that have since been verified by the city secretary as being courtesy of registered voters within the dry zone, far exceeding the minimum of 1,511 required for placement. Despite the seeming inevitability of the measure receiving space on November’s ballot, however, detractors will not give up their fight against it.
“I don’t want to see this neighborhood turn. People just don’t understand that where houses are now, it’s easy enough to knock those down, and suddenly there’s something else there that is undesirable,” Lackey said. “There’s only been one thing we can hang on to here in the Heights which would keep disruptive large restaurants out of the neighborhood. This should be a place you can relax, and not have the problems that come along with these things.”