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Alcohol changes back on agenda
Council will vote on second reading of 2 proposals at Tuesday meeting
Will Britt mugWeb
Will Britt
      At the first meeting of the new year, the Statesboro City Council will once again revisit the issue of revamping the city's alcohol ordinances.
       At Tuesday's meeting, council will be voting on the second reading of two particularly divisive proposals - disbanding the Alcohol Control Board and creating an alcohol license category for taverns and bars.
       Last November, Councilman Will Britt said he originally brought up the idea to disband the ACB because most of the functions of the board were already being duplicated by either city staff or council. He said the move would help remove administrative layers within city government. At the time, Councilman Gary Lewis said there are very few alcohol control boards in municipalities throughout the state, so it's time for change in Statesboro.
       The measure passed the first reading by a 4-1 vote, with Councilman Tommy Blitch being the lone dissenter. Before he voted against the measure, Blitch said he felt the ACB was needed to provide a voice to the community. Prior to the vote, Mayor Bill Hatcher said that though the ACB has no formal punitive authority, it still serves an important advisory role for the city council.
       Also included in the second reading is the creation of three alcohol license categories - restaurants, taverns and bars. Restaurants would be required to generate at least 60 percent of their gross receipts from food sales. Taverns would have to generate at least 35 percent of their gross receipts from food sales and would prohibit patrons under the age of 18 after 10 p.m. Bars would have no food percentage requirement but would only be open to patrons over 21.
       Council held a public hearing on these proposed changes at the beginning of December. At that meeting, numerous citizens - primarily representing numerous churches, local rehab centers and the Bulloch Drug and Alcohol Council - spoke against the creation of bar and tavern categories. Some were concerned that bars would be allowed in the downtown area.
       In anticipation of creating the three license categories, staff proposed changes to the zoning ordinance to specify which zoning classification would be appropriate for each license category, in addition to addressing parking and occupancy issues. The council passed the first reading of these changes in December.
       According to the proposal, restaurants and taverns would only be allowed three zoning areas - the central business district (CBD), commercial retail (CR) districts, and high occupancy commercials (HOC) districts. Bars would only be allowed in HOC areas, which comprise 5.27 percent of the acreage in the city.
       In October, when the issue was of three categories was first brought up Hatcher said he believes Statesboro is known throughout the state as a healthy, Main Street and community city. In his view, he doesn't want to become an Athens where there are numerous bars right on main street and right outside the gates of the university.
       "That's not Statesboro, Georgia for me. I don't think we're served well to move in that direction," Hatcher said. "I think people look up to us across this state as having a Main Street community, which does the right thing and has a good solid image. I'm concerned that this would possibly change that."
       At the public hearing, former 5-year alcohol license holder Roman Mercer said, "The idea to go with three different license types I think is a very good idea. It's something that's been needed for a very long time. I applaud the city council for looking into this."
       Individuals speaking at the public hearing also expressed doubt that the 18-year old restriction for taverns would be enforceable. However, as the city code currently stands, establishment owners are prohibited from restricting patronage at any time based upon age. This means anyone of any age can frequent an existing alcohol serving establishment until they close at 1 a.m.
       City council meets on the second floor of City Hall the first and third Tuesday of each month. The Jan. 6 meeting will start at 9 a.m.

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