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Boro liquor store rules debate shifts toward local zoning and state law
Mayor: zones and distances can serve to limit number of shops; council majority prefers 10 p.m. closing time
Planning and Development Director Kathleen Field, left, and Statesboro City Manager Charles Penny, right, hold a zoning map during the Dec. 21 work session so that Statesboro City Council members could see the zones where liquor stores would be allowed. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

Without taking any votes last week, Statesboro’s mayor and council informally agreed on a liquor store ordinance that mostly follows the state’s minimum requirements, using only local zoning and state distance requirements to limit the number and placement of stores.

This is a shift from prior discussion and even from much of what was said earlier in the Tuesday, Dec. 21, work session, where more than half an hour was spent debating the possibility of a minimum dollar value for a shop’s liquor inventory. That apparently won’t come into play after Mayor Jonathan McCollar eased away from his earlier insistence on setting a limit on the number of stores.

In the absence of any local rule, Georgia law requires that any new liquor store be at least 500 yards from any existing liquor store, at least 200 yards from any school, college campus or educational building and at least 100 yards from any housing authority property or state or local government-operated alcohol treatment center. Meanwhile, Statesboro’s city zoning already restricts most retail businesses to the CR or commercial retail, CBD or central business district and HOC, or highway-oriented commercial, zones.

“I think that’s a good compromise with council,” McCollar said after the work session. “A, it identifies three areas that they can be in, and then we have state minimums as far as how close they can be together. So I believe between the combination of those two things it allows us to limit the number that’s going to be inside of the city.”

In a Nov. 2 referendum, 74% of voters agreed to let the mayor and council license “package shops” for distilled liquors in Statesboro for the first time in memory.  McCollar said in mid-November that he would veto any enabling ordinance that did not in some way limit the number of these shops. He has continued to say that he does not want to see liquor stores “on every corner” and reiterated, even during last week’s session, that he would prefer a population-based limit.

But McCollar had also suggested, in a November interview, that he was open to a “market-based” approach to controlling the number of liquor stores.

“If I see that we get into a space that it becomes a problem, then I’m prepared to bring that back before council, but I think that this is a great starting place for us,” he continued last week, when interviewed about his apparent shift.


Committee suggestions

During the work session, City Attorney Cain Smith reported again on the basic requirements of state law, now presented as a draft for a city ordinance, and also on topics from the Dec. 14 meeting of the mayor’s “ad hoc” citizens’ committee on liquor stores.

That committee, according to Smith’s summary, made no definite recommendation on the number of store licenses to be issued. But the committee’s suggestions included that the city “could” limit the stores to one per council district, which would be five citywide; or “could” increase the distance between stores to indirectly limit the number.

A third suggestion from committee members was that the city “could” base the number of liquor stores on Statesboro’s population, starting with six licenses and adding a license for each 5,000-resident growth threshold. The city’s 2020 census population was about 33,000, and the committee had suggested that the seventh store could be added when the number reaches 35,000.

District 1 council member Phil Boyum has argued that no mandate on the number of liquor stores is needed because consumer demand and the expense of starting a store will limit the number.

Only a few Georgia cities limit the number of liquor store licenses, but McCollar countered that these are some of the cities with the newest ordinances.

“Many of these places passed alcohol ordinances decades ago, and what we’re seeing with newer ordinances, there are numbering limits … and I think that is being done because we live in a different reality,” he said. “We recognize the negative effects that package stores have on neighborhoods or communities that have high rates of poverty.”


The zoning map

But Boyum argued that zoning would be sufficient.

“If you want to keep them off every corner, it’s easy,” he said. “Just put them in highway (oriented) commercial and commercial retail.  We don’t have gas stations on every corner. We don’t have them in neighborhoods because we don’t allow them in neighborhoods.”

Other council members began to express doubts about a numerical limit.

“I’m torn,” District 5’s Shari Barr told the mayor. “I hear what you’re saying about it being a detriment, particularly in impoverished neighborhoods, a temptation, but I don’t know how limiting it to five businesses is going to avoid that.”

McCollar said he also didn’t want to see a rush of license applications “because it’s the latest thing,” followed by a string of business failures across the city.

He specifically asked the three remaining council members where they stood. The votes of three of the five members would be enough to enact an ordinance. If the mayor actually vetoed the ordinance – which he was no longer threatening to do – the votes of four council members at a subsequent meeting would have been sufficient to override a veto.

“I am not in favor of limitations based on just a flat number or based on population,” said John Riggs of District 4.  “I believe that the market (will decide), just like restaurants. I was talking to someone yesterday and they were talking about how we always have restaurants open and then close because that’s just the market. …

“But I am in favor of minimum merchandise limits. … I don’t know what number,” Riggs added, leading into a related discussion.


No minimum inventory

The ad hoc committee had made no recommendation on a minimum store size in square feet. But Smith reported that a “recommendation” to require a $200,000 inventory of “distilled spirits” had been “discussed” but “no final number set.”

District 2’s Paulette Chavers and McCollar had been the two city elected officials who attended the Dec. 14 meeting with the community committee members and several city staff members.

“I didn’t know that it would take at least $200,000 to stock a liquor store and that you couldn’t even borrow on inventory,” Chavers said. “I did not know that coming in. With that information, I do feel that because of that it’s going to limit the number of stores that can open up.”

This led to the discussion of whether to mandate $200,000 worth or some other minimum liquor inventory for starting a store.

But District 3 council member Venus Mack, who said she remained undecided, asked Smith if the city had placed an inventory requirement on existing beer, wine and tobacco shop Two Guys.

“Of course not, and the only two jurisdictions that I’ve seen that have a minimum inventory value are Newnan and Carrolton, which limit the overall number of licenses,” Smith answered. “I can’t find one example where the number’s not limited. I’m just saying that for the sake of best practices.”

When interviewed after the work session, McCollar said he also accepted that the council was “going to stick with state law” in regards to inventory, in effect having no minimum.

After discussion on the latest allowed closing time for liquor stores, McCollar also polled the members. Smith had presented 8 a.m. until 11:45 p.m. Monday through Saturday as the allowable operating hours based in state law.

Chavers and Mack said they preferred the state limit. But Boyum urged adoption of a 10 p.m. closing time, and Barr and Riggs agreed. So McCollar said 10 p.m. would be the council’s direction to Smith in drafting the ordinance.

During the work session, the council heard input from an area liquor store owner and a Statesboro retiree who previously owned liquor stores in other states. A representative of the Bulloch County Alcohol and Drug Council is slated to speak during a Jan. 18 work session before Smith presents the proposed ordinance for a first reading.


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