Bottoms Up: Aldermen prepare to vote on changes to alcohol ordinance

The new regulations would adapt the minimum state statutes of allowing businesses the ability to sell alcohol at least 100 feet from a school, church and funeral home. Starkville’s current restriction is set at 250 feet. These changes would also allow the sale of beer with an 8 percent alcohol content while the current restriction sits at 5 percent. (courtesy)
By: 
LOGAN KIRKLAND
Staff Writer

Over the past month, the community has been back and forth over the proposed alcohol ordinance change presented by Mayor Lynn Spruill in August.

Spruill initiated the conversation with the Starkville Board of Aldermen to hold two public hearings on the ordinance change, hoping to bring “economic impact” and to have the downtown area “stay alive after 5 p.m.”.

The new regulations would adapt the minimum state statutes of allowing businesses the ability to sell alcohol at least 100 feet from a school, church and funeral home. Starkville’s current restriction is set at 250 feet. These changes would also allow the sale of beer with an 8 percent alcohol content while the current restriction sits at 5 percent.

Additionally, restaurants and bars would have the ability to sell alcohol as late as 1 a.m. each day of the week. If the changes pass, it would take 30 days before it goes into effect. In a web poll recently conducted by the Starkville Daily News, 56 percent of respondents voted in favor of the changes to the alcohol ordinance, while 44 percent said they did not approve.

THE GROUNDWORK

During the process leading up tonight’s vote, the first public hearing on Sept. 5 was almost removed from the agenda after Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver made a motion to remove the call for a public hearing from the agenda. Carver’s reasoning was if the board did not have the votes to pass the ordinance change, there was no need to waste the time of the public and board.

The vote came to a 3-3 tie with Carver, Vice Mayor and Ward 6 Alderman Roy A’. Perkins and Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn voting in favor of the removal.

Ward 3 Alderman David Little was not present at the work session during the vote.

The public hearing stayed on the agenda after Spruill cast a tie-breaking vote. Before the first public hearing, Spruill asked the full courtroom at City Hall who was in favor of the alcohol ordinance and who was against it in order to gauge how much time she should allot for comments.

Only three people in the audience raised their hands against the ordinance. Almost the entire room raised their hands in favor of the changes. Of the concerns voiced by people speaking against the ordinance, the chief complaint was for the city not to lower the distance from 250 feet in order to show respect for the churches, schools and funeral homes.

Michelle Jones, president of the Starkville Main Street Association executive board, addressed the aldermen by saying both churches and restaurants play important roles within the community and it is crucial for both entities to coexist.

“Our houses of worship are very important, the way they fit into our landscape is evidence of that,” Jones said. “However, they can’t control the redevelopment of our downtown area.”

Jones addressed the fear of bars and restaurants being opened directly across the street from a church by emphasizing the focus on what this can do for downtown.

“We are not talking about putting restaurants next door to churches, we are talking about decreasing the distance to meet the rest of the state so that we can have the opportunity to improve our economic standings so that next year’s budget can be more robust,” Jones said.

BUSINESSES SPEAK OUT

Rosa Dalomba, owner of The Pop Porium, said passing the changes to the alcohol ordinance would immediately increase traffic for her gourmet popcorn business located on Main Street. Dalomba said she has lost over $20,000 in business, because aside from selling her product, she hosts birthday parties, wedding events and graduation parties. She then said customers say no to her location due to its limitations to sell alcohol.

“I feel like (not passing the ordinance) would really stunt the growth for Starkville to grow with the young community it is attracting,” Dalomba said. “When you have laws like this, which I personally feel like is outdated, it really doesn’t help business growth in general.”

A specific instance Dalomba pointed out to the board was she used to hold an open mic night where attendance ranged around 50 people, but because she is unable to sell alcohol, attendance dropped from 50 to about two or three people in just a few weeks.

“This is getting in the way of me doing business,” Dalomba said.

Co-owner of Moe’s Original BBQ in downtown Starkville Kiel Herbert said just being able to have more businesses downtown with the added time will benefit every business in the Main Street area.

“Foot traffic is priceless,” Herbert said.

Herbert said he understands where members of the church community are coming from by saying “those are our neighbors.”

But he said there comes a time when it’s necessary to look at how this can benefit the community.

“To me, that day is today,” Herbert said.

The Golden Triangle Restaurant Association presented to the board its backing for the amended ordinance, which included local establishments like Harveys and Restaurant Tyler.

CHURCH LEADERS INDIFFERENT

Although many residents voiced their concerns about the impact had on houses of worship, local church leaders appear to be indifferent of the ordinance, saying there are more concerning issues at hand. First United Methodist Church Senior Pastor Giles Lindley and First Baptist Church of Starkville Senior Pastor Chip Stevens both agreed people in the congregations have not come to them directly to speak about their concerns on the possible ordinance change.

“The people I’ve talked to have a lot bigger issues on their mind,” Lindley said.

Stevens told the SDN it’s his job to focus on preaching the Gospel and if people in the congregation are concerned, they should speak to city officials about how they feel on the issue.

Although indifferent, Lindley said he wouldn’t want to see a night club pop up across the street, but cutting the distance from 250 feet to 100 feet would not be a problem for them as an organization.

“We want to be a part of the community and we want to be visible in the community,” Lindley said. “I would rather be here and be seen and be present, then have some restrictions that pushed us further or kept us from building.”

Lindley said the restrictions also affect the churches as well. He said when the church wanted to move into a building close to a restaurant, they had to sign a waiver stating they were fine with a restaurant being within the current ordinance.

Associate Pastor for St. Joseph Catholic Church Father Rusty Vincent said with their experience of being located in the high-traffic Cotton District, the church has never had a problem with alcohol sales in the area.

Vincent said as a church community, the church can’t close its doors when a topic like the amended alcohol ordinance arises.

“We lose our voice in the community when we do that,” Vincent said. “As long as we are prudent about it, I think we can handle the changes,”

GSDP WEIGHS IN

CEO and President of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership Scott Maynard said the ordinance change can provide an immediate impact on the downtown Starkville area.

“The biggest factor in the distance is that it opens up more properties that could be potential restaurants for downtown,” Maynard said. “We want the opportunity for business owners to be able to market their properties to those restaurants which makes for a vibrant downtown.”

The maps Maynard provided for the Starkville Daily News shows how the ordinance restricts restaurants and other business owners from having the ability to sell alcohol.

If the ordinance amendment passes, entire streets can be opened up for potential restaurants and businesses. He said with these changes, the city could start to see almost “immediate” changes.

Maynard said it will add to the foot traffic and allow for other areas of growth for businesses.

“The more properties that are available to do that, I think the better our chances are of continuing that,” Maynard said.

Maynard - the former alderman for Ward 5 - said the board has an important decision resting on its shoulders. If the ordinance passes, it could be the difference maker for Starkville as a culinary and destination town.

“This decision just really opens up the opportunity to market the downtown corridor in a way that we can’t currently do that,” Maynard said.

VOICES FROM THE BOARD

Ward 3 Alderman David Little - who represents a potential tie-breaking vote on the Board of Aldermen - addressed the audience at the last board meeting on Sept. 5 by saying there are “three cogs in the wheel.”

Little said Starkville does not have many bars but a vibrant restaurant market. He said to be a dynamic downtown, it is important to have higher traffic in the area and because the church campuses are so large, the 100 feet change wouldn’t impact the churches.

“There are some properties that some folks have owned the past few years have attempted to lure restaurants in but they cannot under the current system,” Little said. “I’m just stating the facts.”

Vocal about not changing the ordinance is Vice Mayor and Ward 6 Alderman Roy A’. Perkins, who from the start has been against the ordinance change.

“There is more than beer, whiskey and alcohol in this community,” Perkins said during the last meeting.

The board will hold its second public hearing on the possible ordinance change today at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. The board will then vote on the decision once the public hearing is closed.

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