A collection of citizens filled council chambers Tuesday to hammer out details of the city’s reformed and soon-to-pass alcohol ordinance with the group of officials responsible for implementing it.
About 13 individuals — a group that included local restaurant owners and representatives from the Bulloch Alcohol and Drug Council — met with councilmen and city officials to review and brainstorm changes to the new, overhauled code.
Copies of the amended ordinance were provided to the crowd, and for more than two hours within city hall, parties discussed specifics of the new proposed law.
By the time the public session reached its end, tentative agreements were made to pass the ordinance at an upcoming meeting and specific guidelines were set regarding Sunday alcohol sales, which would go into effect immediately and allow sales as soon as Dec. 11.
The group also decided to consider future changes that would allow for adult-only bars in Statesboro, permit open alcohol containers downtown for First Friday events and create an alcohol advisory board.
“We got a lot of work done today. I am very happy with what we have come up with,” said Councilman John Riggs. “There is a lot more work to do. But we have enough to get our foot in the door; to get the code passed (in the next meeting) and have it available to the citizens.”
“I think we had a good workshop,” said Councilman Will Britt. “We talked about a lot of things, came together and fixed some issues. I think we’re in great shape.”
Tuesday’s session served as a final chance to discuss the new ordinance before a vote to grant approval is taken in council’s Dec. 6 meeting.
The reformed code has been a work-in-progress since August, when council determined to address inconsistencies within the ordinance and respond to complaints by local restaurant owners.
Owners voiced concern after a renewed focus on enforcing the current ordinance by police led to a string of citations for violations this summer.
“We were not aware some of the violations were even violations, and we felt they should not be,” Britt said. “There were a lot of things in the ordinance that we felt were out-of-date.”
According to city officials, the effort has led to a simpler, less restrictive ordinance.
“On the (existing) ordinance, there are limits on how you can serve, how much you can serve and what kind of containers you can use. They have all been removed in the new one,” said City Manager Frank Parker.
Also, the new ordinance has no restrictions on happy hour times or pricing — except that alcohol has to be sold for more money than was used to purchase it by the distributor, he said.
“It was council’s wishes that the ordinance remain as simple as possible so anyone reading it, whether an 18-year-old bartender, a 35-year-old police officer or 65-year-old patron, could understand the law clearly,” Britt said.
“I think the simplification of the ordinance is a good thing and the city having this work session for input is good,” said Jim Lanier, owner of Locos Grill & Pub. “This ordinance goes a long way in correcting a lot of the issues of the previous one.”
Though other future changes were discussed — ideas ranged from permitting alcohol-only bars for persons older than 21 to an advisory board tasked with reporting to council about alcohol issues — only Sunday sales will create a major impact for local residents when the ordinance is passed.
Council determined, once the changes are approved, to allow Sunday sales between the hours of noon and 11 p.m. for both restaurant and package sales.
The group also determined not to change fees for acquiring and renewing alcohol licenses, despite the extra day.
Once the ordinance is approved, because all Statesboro license holders currently report at least 50 percent of sales derive from non-alcoholic beverages — as is required by code to be classified as a restaurant — every alcohol-serving business in Statesboro will be allowed to serve on Sundays.
Council said additional changes to the ordinance are likely and will be in the form of amendments after the code is passed in December.
“There are things we will have to revisit,” Riggs said. “It will be a work in progress for a time to come.”
Jeff Harrison can be reached at (912) 489-9454.