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Council restores distance requirement between liquor stores and GS campus at ½ state standard
Square footage requirement dropped; rules still not final
City of Statesboro seal

After lengthy debate and a couple of quarrels Tuesday evening, Statesboro City Council by a 3-2 vote amended the proposed Package Stores Ordinance to require at least 100 yards distance between any liquor store and any college building and to eliminate entirely a previously proposed 3,000-square-foot requirement for store size.

When all was said and done, the rules for licensing liquor stores were still not enacted as city law. A new second reading, for possible final approval, is slated for March 1.

Going into Tuesday’s meeting for its first “second reading,” the proposed ordinance had contained no minimum setback from, in effect, any part of Georgia Southern University’s campus or its other properties in Statesboro. State law contains a default 200-yard distance requirement to any college campus, but since a change in the law in 2020, cities and counties can reduce or remove that requirement.

District 2 Councilwoman Paulette Chavers had made a motion during the Feb. 1 meeting to send the ordinance forward from the first reading with the college distance requirement eliminated, and District 5 Councilwoman Shari Barr seconded that motion, which then passed 4-1 with District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum voting “no.” But Barr said the next day that she had misunderstood Chavers’ motion and had wanted to maintain at least a 100-yard setback from the university.

Barr took up that position during Tuesday’s two-hour work session, where the proposed liquor store rules were the last of several topics discussed before the 5:30 p.m. regular meeting.

“I am not in favor of the zero proximity to the college campus, so I would advocate today for our discussing that further and looking at it,” Barr said. “I’m open to hearing what others have to say, but I’m not in favor of it being zero. It would mean having liquor stores next door, or directly across the street, from a college campus. I think that’s a bad look. I just don’t think we should do that.”

District 4 Councilman John Riggs said he did not want liquor stores placed next to student housing, but did not have the same concern about all  university-owned land.

“Across the street from a housing unit and a across the street from a ballfield, I see as two different things,” he said.

Chavers said she originally wanted to keep the 200 yards but had proposed the “zero” compromise with the idea that the mayor council would still disapprove particular locations if they were too close to the campus or its buildings.

“It would come before council and we would decide whether or not we would allow that particular store to be there, so that is why I made the compromise, because I was under the impression that, OK, if we still get to decide whether or not this is a good location for the store or not, OK, but originally I was for the 200 yards,” Chavers said.

 

University position?

Mayor Jonathan McCollar reported that he had reached out to someone in leadership at Georgia Southern University.

He then read or paraphrased a response that the university would prefer that the city “abide by Georgia code and keep package sales at least 200 yards from campus, as most of the students on our campus are underage, and this adds an added safety concern to serving that population.”

This had come from the university’s governmental affairs office, the mayor said during the meeting. When asked Wednesday, he declined to identify the individual source and said he had read from a text message that was not yet an official statement.

“In all honesty, to put them across the street, that’s almost predatory, because this is a young population,” McCollar had added, speaking for himself, Thursday evening. “They’re still dealing with impulse control, things of that nature, and so I think in this case right year, the 200 yards, that’s  the position I  think we need to abide by.”

 

Square footage out

Barr also opened further discussion of the 3,000-square foot minimum total floor space for a liquor store’s showroom and product storage areas, which had been included in the first reading as approved Feb. 1.

Barr said she had found out that the council chambers, which she called “this great, big room,” measured about 2,200 square feet, including space behind a wall.

“Are we saying that every liquor store has to be half again as big as this? That’s pretty big,” she said.

She observed that some storefront spaces in shopping centers measure 1,100 square feet, and proposed 2,200 square feet as the minimum for liquor stores, to allow reuse of existing buildings.

During earlier discussions, both an inventory minimum and the square-footage rule had been suggested as ways to limit the store without setting an actual numerical limit. City staffer members said a square footage rule would be easier to enforce. Both were intended as ways to limit the number of liquor stores in town without setting an actual numerical limit.

All of these ideas, discussed since a large majority of voters in a Nov. 2 city referendum approved letting the city license liquor stores, came back up during the work session.

McCollar and Boyum also returned to arguing for their original positions. The mayor has advocated for a numerical limit, such as five or six stores, while Boyum has argued that this would introduce political favoritism into deciding which owners get to operate those five or six stores. He has advocated sticking with the minimum requirements of state law, except for adding some requirements for the outside appearance of stores.

Returning to an earlier compromise proposal, McCollar again suggested issuing six licenses at first, but letting the council consider further license applications later.

“We all want to compromise, but at the end of the day we got to do what’s best for the city of Statesboro,” he said, “and as I talk to residents, I talk to stakeholders within the community, none of them want to see us pass an ordinance where there’s not cap on it.”

 

Quarrel ensues

A little later, McCollar asked everyone in the audience who lived in the city limits to raise their hands, and Statesboro residents appeared to be in the minority of those present. When he asked who wanted a cap on the number of package stores, several did, but at least one person raised a hand for wanting no cap.

“Oh my gosh, this is hardly representative of our citizenry …,” Boyum said.

“Phil! Listen!” McCollar interjected. “Allow…”

“You’re dominating this conversation, and Councilwoman (Venus) Mack hasn’t even had really a chance to talk!” Boyum broke in. “This should be a board decision, not a mayor bullying us into doing stuff.”

“Bullying you, Phil, really?” McCollar replied. “Do you know we have to turn your mic down so that we can have the opportunity for the rest of the council to talk? Do you know we have to do that? That’s how much bullying you do up here.”

 

On to a vote

That was during the work session. They sparred verbally again during the regular meeting.

Barr made a motion to approve the ordinance with the addition of a 100-yard distance to college property and a reduction of the minimum store size to 2,200 square feet.

Boyum offered to second that motion, but only if he could amend it to eliminate the minimum square footage. He asked that votes be taken on the amendment and then the motion, but McCollar called this out of order. When the mayor called for a vote on Barr’s motion without the amendment, Boyum insisted he had the right to make the amendment.

But he and the mayor eventually agreed that the council should hear from people in the audience. Barr rescinded her motion, and the council heard from some business people and a representative of the Boys & Girls Club of Bulloch County before restarting its discussion.

Mack suggested having the 100-yard distance requirement apply only to college residential or academic buildings, not property lines.

What finally came to a vote was a motion from Boyum to approve the ordinance with the 100 yards distance to any college building and no minimum square footage. Mack seconded the motion, and Barr joined them in the “yes” vote. But Chavers and Riggs voted “no.”

 

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