Heated debate between officials sets tone for liquor store vote
Posted By Kim Swindell Wood | August 5, 2019 1:56 pm
By Ron Moses
“We have kind of parallel lives,” said Sparta Mayor Jeff Young in a work session prior to the board of mayor and aldermen meeting Aug. 1. “But, sometimes we come at things from different angles.”
Young was responding to Alderman Jerry Lowery’s position on the idea the city would amend an ordinance to change the distance requirements from 500 feet to 300 feet for package liquor stores as it pertains to churches, schools, and public gathering places.
During the board meeting that immediately followed the work session, the board passed the first reading of the ordinance with a 4-3 vote. Young has been a supporter of the change since the issue was first addressed a month ago. Lowery has a different opinion.
“The problem I have is not the business, it is us setting a precedent for a business at this moment in time,” said Lowery. “If we did this three months ago, it wouldn’t even be an issue with me. Let’s fast forward a year from now, or six months from now, when another business wants to come in, and they are 250 feet from somewhere, and they say, ‘Well, you changed it for this business. Why don’t you change it for us.’”
Lowery said he thinks it sets a precedent for issues down the road that could become legal matters for the city. He said he would prefer to leave the footage as is, but, if those affected don’t have a problem, then a waiver can be given.
“In my opinion, it is very risky,” said Young about the waiver. “Then you are not actually following a law or a rule. It’s up to personalities. Under optimum conditions, it might work fine…if that guy likes you that week, and he is willing to let you do something, you get to do it.”
At this time, the state has no law on the set footage on distance of a liquor store to a school, church, or playground. According to Young, it is up to the municipality to set such limits.
“I never liked the 500 feet to begin with,” said Alderman Judy Payne. “It’s too far, in Sparta. If you are having a business in the city, you are going to run into a church or a school somewhere. If you put 300 or 200, there is a chance you can get something done.”
Young said the change in distance requirements is in step with surrounding municipalities.
“I told these folks twice that chances are we would not be changing this ordinance,” said Young. “We worked hard to draft it, and it is what it is. On the other end, I did my homework and checked with other cities, municipalities, and the state and found out a lot of those cities have 300 foot. I don’t think we are setting a precedent for just one business. The reason I say that is there are a million ordinances on our books, and we are asked from time to time to review those. It wouldn’t matter what the business is when they come to us and ask to change that. We either say, no, it is good, or we say let’s look at it.”
Young, Vice Mayor Jim Floyd, Payne, and Alderman Hoyt Jones all voted to approve the amendment to the ordinance on the first reading. Lowery, Alderman Chad Griffin, and Alderman Bobby Officer voted against the measure.
“These are reactionary changes,” said Griffin. “We put a lot of thought into that ordinance, and I don’t want to get into the habit of doing ordinance changes on a case by case basis.”
In other business, as a part of the changes in distance requirement, the City of Sparta will also adopt a new federal ruling that has done away with the two-year residency requirement on individuals or corporations seeking a liquor license.
The board also approved new codes from Tennessee Code Annotated for traffic offenses. The change comes in the wake of the new laws going into effect this year.
Also approved was the transfer of $6,034.02 of bad debt accounts and the approval of a beer license for Regas Express, at 440 West Bockman Way.
The meeting adjourned. All board members were present.