DBPR now accepting specialty liquor license applications for Washington County

The application process is now open for purchasing a license to sell liquor in Washington County.

April 25 marked the end of the 90-day waiting period for the January 21 local option election, which changed Washington County’s status from a “dry” county to a “wet county.” With no further legal challenges to the election or its results, Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation received certification from the Circuit Court on April 26 verifying the results. That election saw just over 66 percent of voters saying yes to the sale of liquor, while 71 percent voted chose both package and by the drink as the preferred method of sale.

Establishments such as restaurants, hotels, or golf courses which intend to serve drinks for on-premises consumption can apply now for a temporary specialty license, which typically takes 2 to 3 weeks to process. Applicants are required to provide documentation such as a lease or deed showing they have authorization to serve liquor at the establishment. If issued, the temporary license will require payment to vendors upon delivery, rather than by a running account, until the regular license is issued, usually within 90 days. 

The specialty beverage license requires establishments to derive more than 51 percent of revenue from food sales and have available seating for 150 or more in at least 2,500 square ft. Establishments will additionally be subject to audits by the state to ensure compliance. Other factors, such as zoning requirements and a 500-ft. setback from schools, will also apply.

While qualifying establishments could obtain a specialty license within just weeks, it will likely be next summer before the county sees the opening of any package stores, which require a “quota” license. Those licenses are sold following an annual lottery which has a 45-day entry process. However, results have not yet been announced for the last entry period, which opened August 16, 2021. Those results are expected to be announced sometime this month and will not include any Washington County quota licenses due to the entry period taking place prior to the authorization for liquor sales by voters.

The entry period for the next quota beverage license drawing will begin Monday, August 15, 2022, with results not expected until around May 2023. Entry into the lottery is $100. Those selected during the random drawing will pay a first-year renewal fee of around $643 in addition to a one-time Hughes Act fee of $10,750, which is slated for alcohol and drug abuse education, treatment and prevention programs. 

The applicant will then have 45 days to apply for the license after being selected and two years to transfer or activate it. If either of those timeframes are not met, the application will be offered to the next alternate. Issuance of the license is contingent on a background check, as restrictions are in place regarding convicted felons. Licenses may be sold and transferred; however, a transfer penalty totaling up to 15 times the annual fee can apply if the license is sold within the first three years of issuance.

The number of “bottle store” locations is limited to one for every 7,500 residents, meaning no more than three quota licenses will be issued for Washington County, which has a population of approximately 24,896 according to 2010 U.S. Census data.

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