Advocates seek signatures to put liquor sales in Antrim on ballot

— By PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
Mike Porter is general manager of Greencastle Greens, one of the proponents of the liquor referendum

An effort is underway to let voters decide if Antrim Township should become wet. Antrim is currently dry, meaning no alcohol is sold in establishments located within its confines. Township citizens are circulating copies of a Petition for Local Option Referendum on the question of granting liquor licenses for the sale of liquor, hoping to gather at least 1,660 signatures. That would put the issue on the ballot of the May 21 municipal primary election.

Copies of the petition are also available at Comfort Inn and Sports Inn.

Greencastle Greens is one of the proponents of the initiative. Mike Porter, general manager of the golf course, said they had been contemplating the idea for a while. The management team saw several benefits for the club.

"It will help us control beer on the course," Porter said.

With a license, golfers would no longer be allowed to bring their own bottle, but would have to purchase it on site. Porter said the present system had caused problems in the past. The staff had no valid reason to search customer bags, so golfers brought whatever they wanted to drink while playing the 18-hole course.

Twice in the past couple years, golf carts ended up in the pond due to the inebriation of players.

"We also want this as another revenue source," continued Porter. "I won't pretend that's not a reason."

Customers wanted the ability to drink during or after a round, too, he said.

Frequently, people asked where they could go when their game was over. If they wanted a chain restaurant, he had to refer them to Chambersburg or Hagerstown.

Don Klim, general manager of Comfort Inn, was also part of a 15-member committee pushing the referendum.

"This is a great opportunity, if done correctly, to open new streams of revenue which would benefit our hotel, but also trickle to other groups and associations in the community. The business parks could attract big time investors as far as restaurants."

At the Comfort Inn, customers sought places to go for a beer or wine with dinner. Corporate clients asked about the option before booking.

Klim had to refer them to Greencastle or towns north and south. He stressed that his visitors were not out to get intoxicated, they just wanted a nice place to spend the evening.

Porter knew some opponents of a wet township thought Antrim would become a haven for biker bars and strip joints. That would not be the case, because ordinances were already in place prohibiting such businesses, he said, and there would be only a limited number of licenses available. He also said the fear didn't create the reality.

"Look at the Borough of Greencastle. It is wet, and it doesn't have a problem with those kinds of places."

Klim agreed. No one wanted "seedy bars" to open, and strict rules and regulations already dictated what could come in to the township.

A group representing different business interests was behind the petition movement, which hadn't occurred for decades, they noted.

Porter said land developers couldn't sell because of the current restriction.

"Restaurants like Outback Steakhouse and Appleby's won't come here because of the ban. And our golfers are aggravated they can't stay here. We're missing a huge opportunity to make money off people passing through."

Both men thought the tax on liquor sales would ease the tax burden of local residents. And if the referendum passed, their businesses would automatically get licenses, to be used on the premises. They were in exempt categories that did not have to vie for one guaranteed new license in Antrim, or any others issued by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, based on population.

Jean Byers from the Franklin County Commissioners Office said a formula determined how many signatures were needed on the petitions.

It reflected 25 percent of the highest vote cast for any office in Antrim Township in the last general election, which was November 2012.

If enough were gathered, the issue would be on the ballot.

"It's a yes or no vote," she said.

If the referendum passed by a majority, she would certify the results for the Liquor Control Board. The change would take effect in 2014.

Klim countered arguments that since Antrim was always dry, it should stay that way.

"It is 100 years of religious beliefs, and some people don't want change. But to move forward in the 21st century, and bring more revenue in, you have to change a little."