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Ban on Lakeside liquor sales could be put to test again

Duluth's residents soon may be asked to weigh in on the future of alcohol sales in what are now the city's only "dry" neighborhoods -- Lakeside and Lester Park.

Duluth's residents soon may be asked to weigh in on the future of alcohol sales in what are now the city's only "dry" neighborhoods - Lakeside and Lester Park.

About one decade ago, denizens of Lakeside and Lester Park voted down a proposal to liberalize local liquor laws, rejecting the change by the narrowest of margins - one vote to be exact.

But 1st District Duluth City Councilor Jennifer Julsrud said Monday that she'd like to put the question to voters anew come November.

"I think we should take it to another vote and see where people are at," she said during a phone interview.

Julsrud proposes a city-wide referendum this time around, instead of posing the question only to voters living in the affected neighborhoods, as Duluth did about 10 years ago.

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"I think it deserves a bigger discussion about who we are as a community and how equitable we want to be across different neighborhoods," she said.

Any actual change to local liquor laws would require an amendment of Duluth's city charter, and Julsrud said she proposes merely a nonbinding referendum.

The results of a local survey released Monday indicate that a majority of Duluth residents favor allowing liquor to be sold in Lakeside. The survey showed 52 percent of respondents "strongly support" amending the charter toward that end, and another 28 percent said they "somewhat support" such a change - adding up to a prospective 80 percent voting block.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness called the 122-year-old ban on sales of liquor in Lakeside and Lester Park "a pre-Prohibition era policy that just kind of stuck over time."

He suggested the proposed vote will likely reveal a shift in neighborhood sentiment toward alcohol sales.

"No neighborhood has changed more over the past decade than Lakeside and Lester Park," Ness said. "A decade ago, there were a lot of seniors living in these homes, and we've seen a dramatic increase in the number of young families who see the prohibition of liquor sales as an inconvenience - to have to drive a couple of miles to a liquor store just to grab a bottle of wine."

For the moment, Julsrud is not taking a position on how the neighborhood should vote, at least publicly.

"I honestly don't have a personal preference one way or the other. I see both sides," she said. "But when I listen to those people who are opposed to liquor in Lakeside, there's a lot of fear of the unknown. So I thought it would be helpful if we could give people clear facts and information about what exactly it would probably look like."

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Julsrud said she considers it highly unlikely that Lakeside or Lester Park would attract "some wild and rancorous bar" if the city allowed liquor licenses to be issued in those neighborhoods.

"I don't see that happening," she said.

Ness predicts that allowing liquor sales into Lakeside and Lester Park would likely have more benefits than downsides.

"I see it as a chance to breathe new life into the Lakeside business district and support small restaurants that should be able to offer their customers a glass of wine to go with a meal," he said.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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