State's PODA law apparently still requires liquor licenses

Apr. 3—MORGANTOWN — If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try again.

Morgantown City Councilor Danielle Trumble said she would like to see the legislature take up the state's PODA, or Private Outdoor Designated Area, law in special session to make a change lawmakers thought they made during the recently completed regular session.

The issue comes down to a technicality.

A PODA is a defined district in which participating businesses can sell beverages containing alcohol to customers who can carry those beverages in identifiable cups to other locations within the district.

When lawmakers initially passed the law in 2023, it said only businesses with Class A liquor licenses can participate.

Expanding participation to include Class B holders like breweries and beer /wine bars—think Chestnut Brew Works or Apothecary Ale House—was among the changes requested of lawmakers this time around.

And they fully intended to oblige, but in the back and forth between the House and the Senate, a phrase was added at the very end that undid the intended change—"eligible businesses are those licensed under West Virginia Code, Chapter 60, Article 7."

Article 7 only pertains to Class A liquor license holders.

"So, because of that one spot, even though they literally said in other places the intent was for Class A, Class B and S2 (fairs and festivals), but because they changed that one bit of wording, the [Alcohol Beverage Control Administration ] is like 'Well, we only have to give [PODA ] licenses to businesses licensed under Article 7 and that's private club liquor licenses, " Trumble said.

City Attorney Ryan Simonton concurred with that assessment.

"It looks like the legislature intended to expand access to different business types. ... I think was the intent of the legislature, but maybe didn't happen with the way the law ended up being passed, " he recently told members of Morgantown City Council.

Trumble, who first began pushing for the creation of outdoor recreation zones in 2022, said the purpose of this change is to allow the numerous local breweries in cities across West Virginia to participate in PODA without needing a liquor license.

"They shouldn't have to get a liquor license in order to sell the beer they make on-site as part of a PODA, " Trumble said. "We asked to make these changes because I would much rather see someone walking down the street in Morgantown or Charleston with a local craft beer made here in West Virginia than a margarita using tequila from Mexico or some other imported liquor."

Trumble concedes this isn't typically the kind of thing the legislature includes in a special session, meaning it will likely be another year before businesses like those mentioned above can participate.

Morgantown's PODA, comprised of the city's downtown and Wharf districts between the hours of 4-10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m.-10 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, is scheduled to go live May 15.

TWEET @DominionPostWV