Houston Could Ease Alcohol Restrictions To Attract Grocers To Food Deserts

Food deserts are neighborhoods with little access to fresh foods or full size grocery stores. They're typically in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, or areas where land use is limited.

So Councilmember Stephen Costello has offered an ordinance that would allow grocery stores to be located in areas that have traditionally been off limits.

"This issue came up when we were looking at a specific area of the city where there was a proliferation of churches and schools. And trying to put a grocery store in some of these areas with these alcohol-free schools, it's very limited and you're not able to do that."

In the City of Houston, it's illegal to sell alcohol within 300 feet of a church, public hospital or private school, or within 1,000 feet of a public school. Costello's ordinance would create an exemption for grocery stores to sell near churches and hospitals.

The ordinance has a lot of support at City Hall. But Councilmember Wanda Adams says many of her constituents are concerned that the only way to incentivize a grocery store to move into their community is through the sale of alcohol.

"So that right there is something I'm having to deal with and really swallow and look at because that's how they're associating it in the communities. Unfortunately, that's what they're associating it with, so it sends out a negative message."

Under the proposed ordinance, only full-size grocery stores would  be allowed to sell alcohol within 300 feet of churches and hospitals. The change would not apply to convenience stores, corner marts or  gas stations.

Councilmember Mike Laster says he plans to vote in favor of the  ordinance, but says the city needs to consider how this change could affect neighborhoods.

"We're talking about making an important policy change here. And whenever we look at these types of policy changes, I think it is incumbent upon us to do everything we possibly can to vet the issue."

Councilmembers ended up referring the ordinance back to the administration, to give the legal department time to thoroughly examine the language regarding what defines a grocery store.

It will come up for a vote in the new year.

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