Impassioned thought on both sides of an issue led to the contentious decision Tuesday to grant an alcohol license to a restaurant located less than two hundred yards from the campus of Georgia Southern University.
Council, along with Mayor Joe Brannen, voted during a scheduled meeting at City Hall Tuesday evening to permit an alcohol license for Bunz Restaurant situated at 1830 Chandler Road, not far from the alcohol-free campus of Georgia Southern.
As a result of the vote, the restaurant — which is classified as a Sports Restaurant, and will sell alcohol Monday through Saturday — will be the nearest alcohol-distributing establishment to campus anywhere in the city.
A debate to grant the beer, wine, and liquor license — to an establishment and owner that, in every right, qualified for the right — couldn’t be settled by council alone.
With four attending councilmen split on the issue (Councilman Chance was not present), Brannen stepped in to un-break the tie, voting to award the license, as was the recommendation of community development staff and City Manager Frank Parker, because the request met all city ordinance criteria.
Contention to awarding a license was raised by Councilmen Will Britt, who motioned to table the issue until council’s next meeting, per the request of property owners located adjacent to Bunz Restaurant.
The property owners were unaware, Britt said, of a recent change to the City of Statesboro alcohol code that allows for wine and malt beverage licenses to be issued to any establishment more than 100 yards from a college campus — the previous version of Statesboro’s code prohibited alcohol for up to 200 yards.
According to the city’s old ordinance, Bunz Restaurant would not have been allowed a license — now, it meets proximity requirements.
“I have been contacted by four land owners adjacent to (Bunz). The owners around the property had some concerns and were unaware of the change,” Britt said. “Some laws have changed, and now the law allows an establishment to sell that previously wasn’t allowed to sell alcohol. One of the entities concerned is Georgia Southern University. Obviously we want to be very good stewards to Georgia Southern and make sure they understand that this is not something we have not seriously considered.”
Britt said phone numbers were given to the owners to contact city staff with their concerns, and that the additional time requested was to give them a chance to fully understand the laws.
When asked by Brannen Tuesday if any of the property owners had contacted either Parker or City Attorney Alvin Leaphart to voice their concerns, both men said they had not been contacted — and no owner was in attendance to express dissatisfaction either.
Councilman Gary Lewis stated a fervent opposition to the idea of tabling a vote on the behalf of four absentee owners.
“I see no way in the world we can tie this up for another two weeks because a few people are upset,” Lewis said. “The individuals complaining are not here tonight. I think it is fair to go ahead and pass this today.”
“Let’s be fair and do what’s right. Let’s pass it,” he said. “I’ve always said: We can’t treat everyone the same, because everyone is not the same. But God knows we can treat everyone fair. Let’s be fair.”
Lewis also mentioned that alcohol-related complaints are very rare for other licensed businesses located in the immediate area.
And with that, councilmen voted on Britt’s motion to table.
Britt and Councilman John Riggs approved of the idea, Lewis and Councilman Tommy Blitch did not.
Brannen broke the tie, deciding not to table the question and instead vote to approve or deny at Tuesday’s meeting.
When Lewis presented a motion to approve the license, he, Blitch and Brannen agreed, prompting applause from a front row of attendees — which included Bunz Restaurant owner and now-license holder Reginald Mosley, and some supporters.
Council will convene for their next scheduled meeting Tuesday, May 1.
Jeff Harrison can be reached at (912) 489-9454.