Not for the first time, Statesboro City Council goes into a regular meeting Tuesday morning with the Package Shop Ordinance on the agenda for an expected “first reading” vote.
A previous first reading slated for Jan. 18 was tabled when one council member was absent and other city officials voiced continuing differences during a work session that day. But the mayor and council members – all present in person or on screen – ended another non-voting work session last Thursday afternoon mostly agreeing to a set of rules now incorporated into the latest draft of the ordinance.
The version on the agenda for the 9 a.m. Feb. 1 meeting calls for a minimum 1,000-yard spacing between any two liquor stores – which is double the minimum distance required under Georgia law – and a minimum 3,000 square feet of floor space in any one store, including product storage space as well as the showroom.
But this draft includes neither a specific limit on the number of stores, which Mayor Jonathan McCollar had long suggested, nor a minimum dollar value of liquor inventory, as had emerged from a discussion with his ad hoc community committee in December.
“And guess what. I’m good with that. …,” McCollar told the council Thursday. “I think this regulates to where we need to.”
He added that anyone who still has concerns should address those to the council and that there would still be an opportunity to “chime in” with the first reading Tuesday.
Going into Thursday’s work session, city staff members including City Manager Charles Penny suggested granting a limited number of liquor store licenses initially but allowing consideration of more licenses in the future. Some people are worried, Penny said, that the city might get 20 applications from the start.
“We don’t know that that’s going to be the case, but a reasonable number to start with might be five or six,” he said. “Then after we see how that goes – we might not even get five or six; we might end up with four, or we might end up with three – but then you would have room to grow that number.”
This led to the question of how the five or six applicants to be granted licenses would be chosen if more applied. District 4 Councilman John Riggs said this would determine whether he could support such a limit.
District 5 Councilwoman Shari Barr, who had expressed interest in increasing the spacing between stores from the 500-yard state minimum, said she had doubts after talking to staff members.
“It appears 1,500 yards wouldn’t be enough to be much of a limit because of how many miles of highway-oriented (commercial zoning) we have in Statesboro,” Barr said. “So if we just increased it to 1,500 yards from 500 yards, we could still possibly have 15 or more stores.”
The ordinance, as drafted, will allow liquor stores only in commercial retail and highway-oriented commercial zones and the central business district.
District 2 Councilwoman Paulette Chavers said she would not want to see 15 liquor stores in Statesboro and supported an increase in the distance requirement.
Riggs said he preferred a distance requirement plus a minimum inventory, as did District 3 Councilwoman Venus Mack. However, she said she thought a previously suggested $200,000 inventory requirement was excessive.
District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum, who has consistently opposed mandating a maximum number of stores, said he was willing to discuss doubling the distance requirement.
The mayor then made a specific compromise proposal.
“The rule of a good compromise is everybody kind of feels they walked away not getting what they wanted,” McCollar said.
He proposed increasing the distance between stores to 1,000 yards, as Boyum had suggested, and issuing an initial six licenses, with other applicants still being able to apply later for the council to consider increasing the number.
But the compromise with no numerical limit on stores emerged in the final half hour of the 98-minute work session, after the officials heard from several interested business people.
Real estate agent Bubba Hunt and business owner and developer Darin Van Tassell said they expect the distance limits, zoning and limited availability of suitable sites to hold the number of liquor stores to far less than 15.
In addition to the 1,000-yard enhanced distance between stores, the new draft still carries the state’s default minimum distances of 200 yards from any liquor store to any school, educational building or college campus and 100 yards to any church, any government-owned alcohol treatment center or any housing authority property.
“If you go around Statesboro right now, inside the city limits there’s not 10 spots for liquor stores,” Hunt said. “There’s just not. So everybody’s going to have to construct something or close another business down to open a liquor store.”
Agreeing with Hunt’s assessment, Van Tassell told the mayor and council, “I think you might really be seeking a solution where you don’t have a problem.
“If you’ve got the distance here, the city of Statesboro’s sheer geography is going to (limit the number of stores),” he said. “You don’t have the number that you’ve feared. … The math is not going to work.”
When council members again discussed a minimum inventory, Penny suggested using square footage of store space instead.
“Inventory would fluctuate,” he said. “Square footage would be easier for us to measure.”
Another rule in the proposed ordinance, as council members informally agreed Thursday, will prohibit liquor stores from selling lottery tickets or providing check-cashing services. Unless prohibited by city or county ordinances, these businesses activities are allowed for liquor stores under Georgia law.
Statesboro stores could sell everything else the state law allows liquor stores to sell.
Incidentally, Georgia prohibits grocery stores or supermarkets from selling distilled spirits. Local governments cannot override this part off the law, so allowing food stores to sell liquor was never a consideration.
In a referendum during the Nov. 2 city election, 74% of participating Statesboro voters checked “yes” to allow the mayor and council to issue licenses for the sale of distilled spirits.
If approved on a first reading Tuesday and left substantially unchanged, the ordinance could be enacted by a majority vote of the council on a second reading Feb. 15. It would then take effect March 15.