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Mayor and council postpone liquor store law first reading until Feb. 1
Further work session Jan. 27 as officials discuss distance rule, number limit, temporary licenses
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Statesboro’s mayor and council will hold a further work session next Thursday at 4 p.m. as they consider whether 500 yards between liquor stores sufficiently limits their number and if temporary pre-construction licenses should be issued as applicants lay claim to store locations.

Meanwhile, the council tabled a preliminary vote on the Package Store Ordinance this week until Feb. 1. If a first reading is approved then and no further substantial changes made, the ordinance could receive a second reading and the council’s final approval Feb. 15.

The work session is now slated for 4 p.m. Jan. 27 is unusual because that is not the date of a regular council meeting. Typically, the council holds a work session – which is a public meeting, but with no substantive votes taken – earlier on the afternoon of the second regular meeting of the month, which is held at 5:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday.

That was the case with Tuesday’s 3 p.m. work session. Charlotte Spell, a project coordinator for the Bulloch County Alcohol and Drug Council and data director for the Georgia Alcohol Policy Alliance, presented information correlating easy alcohol availability to crime other problems and suggesting ways the number of liquor stores might be limited. City Attorney Cain Smith then reviewed the status of the proposed city ordinance.

A draft of the ordinance was on the 5:30 p.m. agenda for a first reading and preliminary vote, but by the end of the work session, the four participating council members had agreed with Mayor Jonathan McCollar’s recommendation to postpone the vote.

One reason he cited for delay was the absence Tuesday of District 4 City Council member John Riggs.

“He was not able to attend today. … He said he was not feeling well,” McCollar said. “But in his conversation with me he did say that he is uncomfortable with the current state of the ordinance and was hoping that council would be willing to actually push back our first reading.”

Until this point, Riggs and McCollar have disagreed on assigning uses for liquor store excise tax revenue. Riggs wanted the added revenue to go to policing and other public safety costs. But Tuesday’s draft of the ordinance included a paragraph the mayor had added directing, as a goal, at least 50% of the money to nonprofit organizations for youth programs and social services, with no earmark for public safety.

 

Compromise ahead?

However, the mayor, hinting at some possible room for agreement, suggested that Riggs may now be interested in limiting the number of stores.

“One thing he did say that he was uncomfortable with, he has had a change of heart on, is actually that there is no limit on to the number of stores that come within the city,” McCollar said.

The mayor said he remains interested in doing this in some way, although in December he had conceded that the majority of council members then did not want a specific numerical limit.

Phoned Thursday, Riggs said what he had indicated to the mayor is that he could be willing to compromise on this point in return for a specific commitment on police funding.

“Compromise – if that’s what we need to do – if that’s what I have to do it will be my first time ever in 12 years, but yes, I’ll be glad to compromise if we can get enough police on the streets to do something about the crime wave,” Riggs said.

 

BCADC presentation

The mayor’s suggestion to postpone the vote followed other discussion and Spell’s presentation on behalf of the Bulloch County Alcohol and Drug Council.

“What we want to do is just provide some history on what the research tells us today can be best practices in reducing excessive alcohol use and the negative consequences that can come about as a result of that,” Spell said.

Those negative consequences could include spikes in the need for treatment services, in criminal activity and in mental health service needs, she said.

 

Distance between

Matching the basic requirements of state law, Tuesday’s draft would have set minimum distances of 500 yards between any two liquor stores in Statesboro, 200 yards from any liquor store to any school, educational building or college campus and 100 yards to any church, any state or county-owned alcohol treatment center or any housing authority property.

Spell’s slideshow highlighted some Georgia cities that mandate larger minimum distances between liquor stores. She noted that while only a few Georgia cities have these rules or other kinds of numerical limits, they are cities with some of the newest package store ordinances in Georgia.

Brookhaven, population 53,618, set a minimum of 1,000 yards between liquor stores and reportedly has six.

Augusta, population 197,191 and encompassing an entire county, set a minimum of 1.5 miles between the stores and reportedly has 31. Peachtree Corners, population 43,507 in a 16.23-mile area, set a limit of 3,000 feet, or 1,000 yards, between stores and other restrictions and has just one liquor store, which looks like a high-end convenience store, as seen in Spell’s photo.

Statesboro’s 2021 population was 33,438 in a 15.31-square-mile area.

One Statesboro council member, District 5’s Shari Barr, expressed interest in increasing the required distance between liquor stores here to something more than 500 yards.

“I don’t want there to be a dozen or 15 stores and half of them fail in the first year – I mean, that doesn’t serve anybody’s best interest – but I’m challenged to see how we could fairly set a limit with just a number, so I’m kind of leaning toward this idea of increasing that distance between the stores, which effectively caps the number of them,” Barr said.

This drew an immediate response from District 1 member Phil Boyum, who asked if the city government will set a distance requirement between “frozen vodka icy stands on the state highway” or between chicken restaurants. He has called attempts to limit the number of stores, beyond zoning requirements, “silly,” but McCollar argued that liquor stores present a public health concern and noted that they are subject to special state regulation.

Agreeing to the postponement, District 2’s Paulette Chavers said she wanted all of the council members there to express their views, and added, “I am concerned about the number of alcohol stores that’s within our city, and that has been a concern of mine from Day 1.”

 

Temporary licenses

Smith and City Manager Charles Penny recommended issuing temporary licenses to would-be liquor store owners as a way to give assurance to people who will often be making a more than $1 million investment.  It could also prevent someone who does not qualify or ultimately does not open a store from tying up an area subject to the 500-yard, or possibly greater, limit.

An applicant who completes the location approval process, criminal background check and other steps required for a liquor store license would be issued a temporary license and have 180 days to have substantial construction or renovations underway. During discussions with the council, Penny developed this further, suggesting that the temporary license holder would then have one year to complete the building, with a single six-month extension possible.

Also subject to further discussion, the council has not set the annual price of a liquor store license. The state maximum is $5,000, which District 3 City Council member Venus Mack said seemed excessive. Smith noted that Statesboro already charges substantial annual fees for other types of alcohol establishments, including $4,300 for a bar.

 

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