After a City Council decision Tuesday, pubs and places with low-volume alcoholic beverage licenses can exist closer than 100 yards from a church, school or college building in Statesboro, if the business first gets a waiver from the mayor and council.
The city's laws already made such "distance waivers" available for restaurants but not for pubs, which by definition derive more of their income from alcoholic drinks than restaurants do, or for low-volume places. A hair salon or barbershop that serves clients a glass of wine or beer is the usual example of a low-volume licensee.
These categories were created in an Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance amendment enacted by the council in October 2019.
"What this would do would be to allow that these pubs, which are still restaurants or they're in that whole gray area between restaurants and bars — they have substantial amounts (of income) from food and from alcohol — to get this business waiver permit, along with the newly created low-volume license classification," City Attorney Cain Smith said Tuesday.
A pub, as defined by the city's ordinance, is an establishment that derives between 40% and 70% of its income from the sale of prepared food items, while a restaurant derives at least 70% of its income from prepared food.
Bars, which have no requirement to serve food and cannot legally admit patrons under the minimum drinking age of 21, remain subject to the city's distance requirement, with no provision for waivers.
A local decision
As Smith reminded the mayor and council, Georgia's state laws do not set any minimum distance requirements for places licensed to serve alcoholic drinks on-premises.
"Under state law, local jurisdictions have full rights in determining what the business requirements are for on-premises consumption," he said.
A Georgia law does set distance requirements for places that sell distilled spirits for off-premises consumption, such as liquor stores, which Statesboro doesn't allow anyway.
But a further section of the state law specifically exempts places that sell alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises, allowing them to "only … be subject to regulation as to distances from churches, schools, and college campuses by counties and municipalities."
Without waivers, the location of some churches, a DUI school and Georgia Southern University's City Center cut off a number of downtown business locations from eligibility for low-volume licenses, Smith said.
The ordinance restricts low-volume licenses to businesses that receive no more than $1,000 worth of wholesale deliveries of alcoholic beverages each month, on average, over the course of a year.
Smith spoke to the council Tuesday evening during the official second reading of the "distance waiver" ordinance change, which the council had voted forward 5-0 on a first reading May 4.
The council's vote for final approval Tuesday was 4-1. District 2 member Paulette Chavers made the motion, seconded by District 3 member Venus Mack.
District 4's John Riggs voted "no," without saying why during the meeting.
"The reason I voted against the distance waiver law is because I feel it can be abused, and I don't want that to happen," he said in a voicemail reply Thursday.
A previously established section of the ordinance prohibits approving any on-premises beverage license without "a certificate from a land surveyor, registered in the State of Georgia, showing a scaled drawing of the location of the proposed premises and the shortest straight line distance from the front door/primary entrance to any church building, school building, educational building, school grounds, college building, or college campus located within a radius of 100 yards of the premises."
In practice, a surveyor's certification is required for all on-premises license applications — not just those thought to be within 100 yards of a church or educational facility — and the city's Planning and Development Department researches proximity issues as part of the application review process, Smith said in response to an email.
Proximity waiver requests are currently placed on the same City Council meeting agenda with the related new license applications, and the waiver permit would be voted on first, he said.