With the Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance enacted in 2016, Statesboro City Council unintentionally outlawed buying beer at a hotel’s front desk and drinking that beer in a room at the hotel.
Ironically, buying beer elsewhere, such as at a convenience store, and drinking it in the same hotel room would be legal. An amendment given a first reading Tuesday will allow beer and wine, purchased at hotels licensed for package sales, to be consumed in the hotels’ guest rooms and common areas.
“There’s a recent and increasing trend that hotel lobbies have a pantry next to the check-in, and they typically sell beer and wine from there,” City Attorney Cain Smith told the council.
But the section of the city legal code governing package sales of beer and wine currently states that the original containers “shall not open on the lot or premises of the location licensed for the sale thereof.”
This means “since the whole hotel is a licensed establishment, that even if a patron takes a bottle of beer or wine to their room, that would be illegal,” Smith said.
‘Common areas,’ too
The proposed ordinance change adds “unless purchased at a hotel (as defined herein) with a Class B and/or C license, in which case opening and consumption of these beer and wine containers in the hotel’s guest rooms and common areas, excepting the parking lot, is permitted.”
Class B licenses are for selling beer, Class C for wine, both in the original package.
Mayor Jan Moore summarized the proposed change, in a questioning voice, to Smith.
“So, to be clear, what would have happened, or will happen prior to this being enacted, is you can go across the street and buy a six pack at the Minit Mart and come back and drink it at the hotel, and that is not against the law?” Moore said.
“It is not against the law,” Smith agreed.
“But if you happen to buy it in the hotel, a six pack out of the cooler, and perform the same act of drinking it in your room, that is against the law?” Moore said.
“That is correct,” Smith said.
“Surely that’s not what we intended,” Moore said.
“Certainly not,” Smith said. “This is just one of those things that … it wasn’t foreseeable until we saw where it went.”
At least 50 rooms
He noted that the Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance already defines a hotel as a lodging establishment with 50 or more rooms.
“There’s no sort of room for abuse, of a convenience store throwing a cot in the … corner of the store and being a hotel,” Smith remarked.
As part of Tuesday morning’s regular meeting, the council opened a public hearing on the amendment. No one spoke for or against it, except for District 2 Councilman Sam Jones telling Smith he did a good job clarifying the wording.
District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum, who is general manager of SpringHill Suites’ Statesboro hotel, did not comment on the proposal during the meeting. Called later this week, Boyum said he hasn’t consulted Smith on whether he should abstain from the vote, but probably will. Statesboro police brought the issue with hotel beer sales to Smith’s attention, Boyum said.
Because it was the amendment’s first reading, the council did not vote. But a vote could occur at the next meeting, June 20. The meeting that would have fallen on July 4 is cancelled.
City Council approved the new alcohol ordinance in March 2016, for the first time differentiating bars, as establishments for patrons age 21 and up, from restaurants licensed to serve alcohol. Other provisions include training requirements for people who sell and serve alcohol and check ID cards. Most aspects took effect last July 1 and the rest Jan. 1.
But the council has continued to make changes, including some recommended by an Alcohol Advisory Board.
“Alcohol is a complicated issue,” Moore said Tuesday. “It’s a complicated issue for every community; it’s not unique to Statesboro. Just ask any public servant in Athens and they’ll tell you. But I think we just have to be patient as we work through little things that pop up like this.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.