IN DEPTH: Wet or dry status has a history in Antrim Township

Staff Writer
Echo Pilot
Antrim Township voters will vote May 19 on whether the municipality should allow the sale of alcohol within its borders.

Supporters have been successful in putting a controversial issue before the public. Voters will decide May 19 whether Antrim Township will become wet. As a dry township since 1939, businesses have not been allowed to sell alcoholic beverages. A segment of the population wants that to change. Enough signatures were obtained on petitions submitted to the Franklin County Election Board on March 10 to put the matter on the ballot. The question will be: “Do you favor the granting of liquor licenses for the sale of liquor in the township of Antrim, in Franklin County, Pennsylvania?”

Old issue

Voters at the Sept. 12, 1939 polls faced a similar question, in two parts. One was to grant malt and brewed beverage dispenser licenses, the other to grant liquor licenses.

The Borough of Greencastle already had taprooms, and voted 1,238-786 to keep them and allow liquor. Waynesboro, Chambersburg and Mercersburg also retained wet status. Mont Alto had previously outlawed the sale of beer, and now did the same for liquor. The townships of Fannett, Metal, Quincy, Washington and Letterkenny also were authorized to grant liquor licenses.

Prohibition was in effect from 1920 until 1933. Municipalities then had to decide how to handle the issue of drinking. The Franklin County Hotel & Restaurant Owners Association took out a full page ad in The Echo Pilot on Sept. 7, 1939. The headline was “An Appeal to Reason on Local Option”. The association said if the effort failed, bootleggers would return. People who went elsewhere for beer would also do their other shopping out of town. If the referendum passed, revenue that had gone to the likes of Al Capone and Baby Face Nelson would instead be used for the maintenance of the blind, the aged and the schools. The number of jobs would increase.

The Pennsylvania Association for Moderation & Law Enforcement took out two quarter-page ads favoring passage of the option. One advertisement showed a judge, and the large-font statement “Prohibition made criminals of fine young men!” The other ad showed a real estate agent telling a sad property owner that he could not rent his building because of the dry status of the municipality. There were too many for rent signs in town, a failing community spirit and empty storefronts. It also said a poll revealed 70 percent of businesses in another area regretted that their municipality went dry four years earlier.

There is no record of an editorial stance on the issue by newspaper publisher G. Fred Ziegler. The vote tally on the Antrim ballot was also not revealed in the post-election issue.

The status of Franklin County municipalities changed through the years, according to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). The board formed when prohibition ended, and enforces the law as created by the state legislature. In 2015 the wet boroughs in the county are Greencastle, Chambersburg, Mercersburg, Waynesboro and Shippensburg, while the dry ones are Mont Alto and Orrstown. The wet townships are Metal, Quincy, Warren and Washington. The dry ones are Antrim, Greene, Fannett, Guilford, Hamilton, Letterkenny, Lurgan, Montgomery, Peters, Southampton and St. Thomas.

Shawn Kelly, PCLB spokesman, said there were no dry counties in Pennsylvania, but three that were mostly dry - Juniata, Perry and Franklin.

New issue

Under Section 461 of the Pennsylvania Liquor Code, one restaurant (R) license or eating place retail dispenser (E) license is allowed per 3,000 residents, for malt or brewed beverages, said Kelly. The R license allows liquor, beer and wine. The E license allows only beer. Exceptions are made for specific applications, such as those involving public venues in certain places, golf courses and national veterans organizations.

Antrim’s population in the 2010 census was 14,893, making it eligible for four R or E licenses without township approval. Once the quota is full, an applicant must get approval through an ordinance or resolution after a hearing, before the PLCB would consider granting a license. One example would be a business moving into the township from another location, Kelly said.

“The interesting thing about Franklin County,” he added, “is that it is now under its quota of 49. As of January 31, 46 licenses were valid. Two are now pending as renewals, so there is one retail liquor license available.”

If the past owner and others apply for that license, the PLCB would hold a hearing to determine who would get it. Since that one is an open license no bidding would occur. If someone wanted to purchase an exisiting license, the marketplace would dictate the price, said Kelly.

The petitioners for Antrim’s referendum used one of seven classes for a ballot question, said Jean Byers, Franklin County Chief Deputy Clerk. While the wet-dry question names Antrim Township as the recipient, the choice could have been narrowed to discover the will of electors on granting liquor and/or beer licenses to specific types of businesses, retail or wholesale distributors, special occasion permits, even the status of state stores.

If the question is defeated May 19, people may not file another petition for four years. If it passes, once certified results are in, PLCB would consider any applications for a liquor license. There could be one or none open at that time.

Jason Kinzer was among the residents, business owners and developers who gathered signatures on the petitions.

“We would all like to see development along the I-81 corridor, with restaurants that serve beer and wine,” he said. “Those businesses won’t even look at Antrim Township because it is dry.”

Mike Still, seated on the Greencastle-Antrim School District school board, was also an advocate for getting the matter on the ballot.

“A ‘no’ vote is a vote for more taxes,” he said. “A ‘yes’ vote gives us a fighting change to create a tax base other than personal residences. We’ve got all this land zoned highway commercial along the interstate, not bringing in revenue.”

The bulk of the school district’s funding comes from real estate property taxes. Still wants to see nice restaurants take on some of the burden.

Pros and cons

Antrim’s neighbors are wet and dry. Washington Township has had liquor sales forever, said manager Mike Christopher. And he was gung ho on that status.

The township had an Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar, but he wanted more such establishments. He would take an Olive Garden, Texas Roadhouse, TGI Fridays or something similar.

“So you can have a dang beer with your hoagie!” he exclaimed.

Christopher saw a wet municipality as an economic development tool, which would attract tourists who would spend their money locally. It created more jobs, and helped with tax revenue. Because Washington Township had historically significant spots and good parks, his board was considering tagging on with the Borough of Chambersburg’s resolution for the state to create another class of licensure, for downtown entertainment districts and tourism areas. It was seeking the endorsement of the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs.

Christopher called Pennsylvania’s system of handling restaurant-based liquor licenses “antiquated”, keeping communities from competing on the open market for sales tax dollars. Waynesboro residents were going to Maryland for dining experiences and then doing shopping, while Maryland residents were not coming north in the same quantity.

As for any drawbacks on a wet township? “No.”

Christopher was a bit concerned though, that if Antrim lost its dry status, it would take away his last chance to get another liquor license under current law.

Greene Township is dry, and supervisor Todd Burns said he only gets occasional inquiries on the issue. Chambersburg is to the south and several major roads run through the township - U.S. 11 and 30, Route 997, and I-81. The Chambersburg Country Club, a private organization in his territory, received authority to sell liquor about a decade ago through a referendum. The measure narrowly passed, he said.

Since Greene did not levy a real estate property tax, he didn’t see a particular benefit to allowing liquor sales, but likewise saw no negatives if the township became wet.

“It will be interesting to watch Antrim,” Burns said.

Antrim administrator Brad Graham said the township had no involvement in the issue thus far, but the districts adjoining the three interstate exits were zoned community commercial or highway commercial, so they could accomodate restaurants with an R or E license. Carryout sales and a state-owned store would also be allowed.

“The township can still make restrictions, and will have to make modifications, because language is not in the ordinance now on bars and restaurants,” Graham said, should voters pass the referendum. However, safeguards were already in place for something like a strip joint.

A simple majority will determine whether Antrim stays dry or gets wet.

— By PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot