With 12 apparently complete applications for liquor store licenses received Friday and a 13th application still pending completion Tuesday, proposed sites in more than one area of Statesboro are in conflict with the city’s minimum 1,000-yard distance between liquor stores.
Three store sites identified for an area of South Main Street appear to have even less than the 500-yard minimum distance between them that is required by Georgia law. This is also true of two store locations proposed for Tormenta Way, where the shopping center containing the Publix supermarket is under construction.
A third area may also be of concern, City Attorney Cain Smith indicated Tuesday. The existing Two Guys Beverage at 520 Fair Road, Suite 410, proposed to expand to sell distilled spirits, and a store proposed for the former Midtown Bar & Grill location at 12 Brannen St., although more than 500 yards apart, may be closer together than the 1,000 yards required in the city ordinance, Smith said, but city staff members have yet to make a determination.
During Tuesday morning’s regular City Council meeting, he publicly advised the mayor and council members not to get into conversations about the locations, because they will be called on as a board to make final decisions about which applicants receive licenses. He advised the elected officials to refer any questions to staff members.
“In this situation especially, where you have conflicts – we have to have approximately a thousand yards between applicants – I would advise those that are making the final decision not to engage in conversation with that to avoid any image of impropriety, to avoid any personal or municipal liability, because this is going to be contentious,” Smith said.
“We have three areas that have multiple applicants where, in those three areas, not everyone is going to be approved,” he said. “There is going to be conflict here, and of course I would advise y’all to stay out of that conflict and direct any questions that anybody may have regarding this process to city staff.”
Specifically, he suggested that the mayor and council members direct those questions to City Clerk Leah Harden and Tax and License Coordinator Sue Heape.
The South Main 3
The three proposed South Main Street store locations apparently within 500 yards of one another are The County Line Too, 814 South Main St, owner applicants Landrum Hodges Jr. and Sam Johnson; “815 South Main,” 815 South Main St., owner-applicants Nick Propps and Robert Bell; and House of Booze, 801 South Main St., owner-applicant Timothy Hunt.
Near Publix, 2
The one completed application in Friday’s list from the Publix shopping center area was GATA Package, (no street number given) Tormenta Way, owner applicants David Blackmon and Jeffrey Spencer. But Harden said that an incomplete application was received by email, after City Hall closed Friday, from Parkers Spirits LLC with a location of 101 Tormenta Way. That application remained incomplete Tuesday, Smith said, but it could be completed later.
Friday was the first day distilled spirits package shop applications were accepted under Statesboro’s new city law, and no additional applications had been received Monday.
If two proposed liquor stores were more than 500 yards but less than 1,000 yards from each other, the council could possibly, by resolution, allow both as an exception to its 1,000-yard requirement. But the city cannot waive the state’s 500-yard minimum, Smith said.
As was already the case with other types of alcoholic beverage licenses, the city clerk has 30 days to complete an investigation of the supporting documents provided with a license application. Applicants have also agreed to criminal background checks, and the city’s zoning staff will check that each site complies, since liquor stores are restricted to commercial zones.
With alcohol licensing in general, the staff sometimes discovers that a site or applicant is ineligible and rejects the application outright, Smith noted. The applicant then has 30 days to file an appeal to City Council. The process was already spelled out in Section 6-12 of the city ordinances.
But if the staff finds that an application meets the basic requirements, the City Council still has to hold a hearing for final approval. Ordinance Section 6-13 sets out the factors that may be considered, and Smith has said that the council may use these to decide between sites that meet basic requirements but are too close together.
Factors to consider
These factors include the reputation of the owner, designated manager or any other person associated with the business; previous violations of alcoholic beverage laws and manner of conducting business; and the store’s location in relation to traffic congestion, the character of the neighborhood and effect on property values. The council members may consider whether people associated with the business are “compliant with all matters” in any business venture in Statesboro, including zoning, permitting, taxes, code compliance, licensing and fees.
They may consider whether the proximity to schools, colleges, religious institutions, parks and other circumstances would “cause minors or those under 21 years of age to frequent the immediate area even though in compliance with the minimum proximity requirements,” this previously established section of the Alcoholic Beverages Ordinance states.
District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum asked if the council could consider “things like the applicants’ behavior and treatment of our staff.” Smith referred him to Section 6-13 and said, “It is extremely broad.”
City Hall behavior
“I want folks to remember that an alcohol license is a privilege, not a right,” Boyum said, “and our city staff is just doing their jobs and they do not deserve to be berated or talked down to or in any other way treated inappropriately in this process, and if it comes to light, I tell you, I personally will consider it, whether the rest of the council does.”
During the months when City Council was developing its rules for licensing liquor stores, Mayor Jonathan McCollar advocated for a specific limit on the number of stores. Boyum opposed this, in favor of a free-market approach, and the council ultimately settled on increasing the minimum distance between liquor stores from the state-required 500 yards to 1,000 yards in an attempt to limit the concentration of stores.
Interviewed later Tuesday, McCollar said the number of applicants validates his expectation that a rush would occur.
“This is what I anticipated from the beginning, and this is why I advocated a cap for it, and the reason being that either way we’re going to have to make a decision as to what licensees are granted and what licensees are not,” he said.
If stores open at all of the proposed locations that meet the distance requirements, some are likely to fail, he said.
“Our community is not big enough to support, in my opinion, nine liquor stores successfully, so that means that there’s going to be some hardship, and some of those businesses may close long-term,” McCollar said. “I understand that that’s part of the market situation, but on the other hand, you don’t want to have business owners that are not successful and then the word-of-mouth negative effects on our local economy come into play.”