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City mulls changes to alcohol law

Drive-thru beer, wine pending 2nd vote; moratorium blocks licenses to nuisance spots

City mulls changes to alcohol law

City mulls changes to alcohol law

A pending move to allow closed-container beer and wine to be sold at drive-thru windows generated more discussion. But Statesboro City Council on Tuesday also approved a six-month moratorium on new alcohol licenses for previously licensed locations shut down by court order.

A proposed change in the alcoholic beverage ordinance to allow drive-thru beer and wine first appeared on the Feb. 18 agenda. But council members unanimously tabled the change until they could discuss it further in a work session. That session was held at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, before the regular council meeting at 9 a.m.

Permission for drive-thru sales would apply only to businesses licensed to sell beer and wine for off-premises consumption.

“Basically it means if you’ve got a convenience store with a drive-thru window in it, you can sell beer and wine by the package,” City Attorney Alvin Leaphart at first told council members.

But the permission would also apply to other stores, such as drug stores, that have drive-thru windows. It would even extend to places that fill growlers, large reusable glass containers filled with beer from a tap for consumption elsewhere.

No businesses were mentioned by name. But at least one place in town, Southern Growlers Beer Filling Station, dispenses growlers and has a drive-thru left over from one of the building’s previous lives as a fast-food restaurant. The council added a section to the alcoholic beverage ordinance, approved on a second reading Dec.3, that defines growlers, requiring that each container have a screw cap with a plastic collar over it. The ordinance also allows growler vendors to serve samples for on-premises consumption, limited to 16 ounces of samples per customer in 24 hours.

“What about giving samples through a window?” Councilman Travis Chance asked.

At first, Leaphart suggested that this point might be clarified by changing the proposed amendment to specify that growler samples may not be handed out a drive-thru window. But he said this might require tabling the amendment again and bringing it back to council.

“They’re kind of in a gray area,” Leaphart said. “A growler is a package sale, they have a package sale license, but we’ve allowed growlers places to give out samples.”

Mayor Jan Moore asked if changing the amendment would prohibit voting on it during Tuesday’s meeting.

After a brief pause, Leaphart said that the state’s law against open alcoholic beverage containers in vehicles should prohibit drive-thru samples without the need to make this explicit in the city ordinance.

 “If we found out anybody selling growlers was handing samples outside their window, they would be violating the state alcohol laws,” he said.

That, he observed, could put their state and local licenses at risk and would subject them to prosecution.

When Moore asked if this prohibition on drive-thru tastings also apply to “walk-thru tastings” and “bicycle tastings,” Leaphart said it would.

Another topic during the 15-minute work session was whether council members could approve the amendment with a single motion during Tuesday’s meeting, or whether they should vote on a first reading  and wait to give final approval with a second reading at a later meeting.

When a council member asked about this, Leaphart said there is no legal requirement of two readings to approve an ordinance.

“Well, having just one reading for this, and then two readings for all the other things that we’ve done, it wouldn’t look just right,” Councilman John Riggs said.

“We would not be being consistent,” said Chance.

Other council members agreed that only a vote on a first reading would be taken during Tuesday’s regular meeting.

So people attending only the 9 a.m. meeting heard the matter addressed only as the first reading of an ordinance. On a motion from Chance, seconded by Riggs, council approved the reading by a unanimous voice vote.  But the amendment will take effect only if approved on a second reading, which is slated for the next meeting.

Not a part of the work session, Tuesday’s other beverage-related action appeared ahead of the drive-thru amendment on the regular meeting agenda. This was a temporary, six-month moratorium preventing alcohol license applications from being approved or even processed for previously licensed places ruled to be public nuisances by a court.

The city obtained a court order in November and shut down the Platinum Lounge and Primetime Lounge after repeated gun violence at both. City Council then revoked Primetime’s license in January after court testimony revealed falsehoods in its application.

“This moratorium will give us time to make appropriate changes to our alcohol ordinance so other clubs can’t necessarily open right on the heels of those being shut by the Superior Court,” Leaphart said. “It will buy us time to make those appropriate changes.”

His statement and the wording of the moratorium resolution appear to link the city’s plans for a complete revision of the ordinance to the recent enforcement actions. The council issued a notice Feb. 4 of its intent to amend the alcoholic beverages ordinance “in its entirety.”

On a motion from Riggs, seconded by Councilman Will Britt, council unanimously approved the six-month moratorium.

Also Tuesday, the council held a 20-minute closed session to discuss a possible lease, which City Manager Frank Parker said would need federal approval. No action was taken afterward.

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