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No cheers for Pasco rules on alcohol sales

Today is one of the biggest beer consumption days of the year. Nationally, that is, not specifically at the domicile of the commentary writer/sports fan-turned-casual-observer when the big game doesn't involve Bucs or Bills.

Research and retailing groups report that Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest day of the year to be host of a house party, surpassing even New Year's Eve. And what do they do at said parties? Imbibe.

A year ago, retailers sold 52 million cases of beer during the two-week period surrounding the 2008 Super Bowl, with higher sales reported in the New York and New England areas, home of the participating teams, and in Phoenix, site of the game, according to Nielsen Co. research on the progressivegrocer.com Web site.

Presumably, the Tampa Bay region will mirror that spike as host to Super Bowl XLIII. Hopefully, recycling of aluminum cans and glass bottles will spike in the days ahead, but that's another battle away from the gridiron.

If you haven't purchased your lagers or pilsners yet, there is still plenty of time. Kick-off between the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers is shortly before 6:30 this evening. If you live in the sprawling Meadow Pointe community in Wesley Chapel, you don't even have to leave the subdivision to grab some brews.

Much to the chagrin of some of the people living there, the new neighborhood CVS store is selling beer. Eighteen-packs of light beer from Bud, Coors and Miller for $12.49.

You may wonder, so what? Beer and wine are part of the typical merchandise at CVS. Except at this particular store, at County Line Road and Mansfield Boulevard in Wesley Chapel, county commissioners unanimously rejected permission, known as a conditional use permit, for the store's alcohol sales.

The August vote came after residents objected because the store is across County Line Road from the Meadow Pointe II clubhouse and across Mansfield Boulevard from a day care center. Commissioners ruled the swimming pool, playground, courts and other amenities at the clubhouse constituted a public park club and, therefore, the store did not meet the minimum 1,000 feet required between alcohol retailers and schools, churches and parks.

It brought back-patting from commissioners and gratitude from residents (voters) just two weeks before the primary election.

Just one little hiccup in all this. It turns out the county's own rules don't cover beer when it comes to conditional use permits governing sale of alcohol for off-site consumption.

"Thus, although the definition of alcohol includes beer, beer is exempt from the conditional use provisions of the code,'' Debra M. Zampetti, the Pasco zoning/code compliance administrator, said in an e-mail to Commissioner Pat Mulieri.

In other words, the CVS store can't sell wine, but the county is powerless to prohibit the beer sales. The store opened a week ago and residents immediately noticed the refrigerator case and aisle displays of beer. At least one called for a store boycott.

"Meadow Pointe residents against this anticommunity snub should give them (CVS) the same consideration they gave us,'' said Raymond Kobasko.

He complained to Mulieri, who said she would appeal to CVS' sense of being a good corporate neighbor.

"Residents really feel they were scammed, and the way to change this is to eliminate the beer sales,'' she said.

Don't expect that to happen.

"We have to keep all of customers in mind when we choose what products to sell,'' said Mike DeAngelis, a CVS corporate spokesperson in Rhode Island.

He said CVS intends to maintain beer sales there and said employees have been trained to ask for proof of age identification from all buyers.

Besides, it's not even a big draw. Outside of the prescription drugs, snack foods and cosmetics are the leading sales items so far.

The residents' anger at CVS is understandable. The corporation knows the sentiments of the community and local government and acted contrarily.

But shouldn't these same residents be just as aggravated with Pasco County? They should wonder how county land development codes, dating from the late 1980s, exempted beer from some of its alcoholic beverage controls. Did someone way back when figure everyone would be satisfied with an O'Doul's?

"That's ridiculous, isn't it?'' agreed Kobasko.

And why is it that the CVS legal team figured out the loophole, but the county didn't? Certainly, the county needs to amend its codes to reflect the intent of the commission. Otherwise, Zampetti warned, this episode will be repeated elsewhere in the county.

Friday afternoon, I visited the CVS store and surveyed the beer aisle. The cooler had several sections of open shelf space. It means either the beer vendors did a poor job of their initial stocking (not likely) or somebody has been buying six-packs it at a brisk pace.

On this point, Kobasko and DeAngelis agreed.

Of course beer is moving. It is, after all, Super Bowl weekend.

No cheers for Pasco rules on alcohol sales 01/31/09 [Last modified: Saturday, January 31, 2009 1:15pm]

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