Make That A Draft and Two Scoops of Fodder
The majority of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners–perhaps fearing that the recent decline in rezone requests is freeing up too much time on their meeting agendas–seems poised to pass a beer and wine ordinance on Tuesday night that likely will keep them busy in the future.
The ordinance includes a map of the areas of the County where restaurants can sell beer and wine that almost guarantees that redrawing the map will become a major activity of the Commission.
County Attorney Daniel Haygood said as much at the BOC meeting on April 1, when the Board gave first reading to the ordinance. Yes, it was April 1, but the ordinance is real.
Haygood said every time someone wants to get a license to sell beer and wine at a restaurant outside the mapped area, the applicant will have to come back before the BOC and ask that a new map be drawn.
The map included with the current ordinance allows the sale of beer and wine at restaurants on narrow strips of land on both sides of U.S. 78 and Business U.S. 78 as it runs from Walton County to Clarke County.
The map includes some strips of land stretching along the north section of S.R. 316 between the U.S. 78 interchange and the Oconee Connector and not other parts. All the land between S.R. 316 and Mars Hill Road between U.S. 78 and the Oconee Connector is included, except for one residential neighborhood.
The map picks up land zoned for residential use–and currently used for residences--along Daniells Bridge Road between the Oconee Connector and Chestnut Hill Road.
Around Butler Crossing, the allowed area for sale of beer and wine zigs and zags, picking up parts of the U.S.D.A farms along Hog Mountain Road. The cows should be happy.
The district runs on both sides of U.S. 441 from the Clarke County line until just beyond the Watkinsville bypass, when it stops at the Thomas Orchard fruit stand, where, in theory, one could order a beer to go with the home made ice cream.
The date of the final vote on the ordinance has changed several times. In a legal notice in the March 27 issue of The Oconee Enterprise, it was listed as April 1. The BOC postponed the decision and called the special meeting for Tuesday to vote on the issue.
All indications are that it will pass, with Commissioners Don Norris and Jim Luke voting in favor and Commissioners Margaret Hale and Chuck Horton voting against.
Chairman Melvin Davis, who has been pushing the ordinance behind the scenes at the request of the Chamber of Commerce, will be forced to break the tie–something he has not wanted to do.
Davis recently has indicated he will vote in favor.
The issue has really put Davis in a bind. At the request of the Chamber, he brought the issue up last summer. The BOC held two public hearings, but it was clear from the start that it was supposed to pass an ordinance.
In fact, at the first public hearing, the County began discussing what should be included in the ordinance.
When Davis wasn’t able to count three votes in favor of beer and wine sales unless he voted, he put the issue on hold.
Then in November, the Chamber sent another letter to Davis telling him to schedule a vote by the BOC on beer and wine sales. Davis called a special December 7 meeting of the BOC to be held out of town to talk about the issue. He neglected to tell the public about the meeting, however, as is required by law.
Only in January did Davis admit that the meeting took place and that beer and wine sales were on the agenda.
At that point, Davis announced that he was running for re-election and started pushing beer and wine sales again. It is better to keep one’s friends at the chamber than one friends at church, it seems.
One of the key proponents of beer and wine sales has been hotelier Larry Benson, who was chairman of Davis’ re-election campaign in 2004. Benson has plans for a two-hotel complex between S.R. 316 and Daniells Bridge Road at the Oconee Connector.
Benson’s lieutenant, Lewis Shropshire, told the BOC at one of the hearings in the summer that the first hotel could get by with beer and wine sales, but the second will need liquor by the drink. It seems likely pressure for that, which takes a vote of the electorate, not the BOC, will grow once beer and wine sales at restaurants become legal.
Davis and Luke have both said they will only support a "tough" ordinance. Apparently, the strangely drawn map is part of what it means to be "tough." At least initially, beer and wine sales will take place only in the funny areas shown on the map.
The Chamber of Commerce has promoted beer and wine sales at restaurants as a way to reduce the "tax burden" on homeowners.
The sale of beer and wine at restaurants also will have costs for administration and enforcement, Oconee resident John Bergstrom pointed out at the March 18 hearing on the ordinance. He asked for a cost-benefit analysis.
That request fell on deaf ears.
The rumor–repeated to me by County Attorney Daniel Haygood–is that some "big" development is in the works, pending authorization of beer and wine sales at restaurants. As the story goes, a big regional shopping Center will come to the County once the developer knows that outlots can be sold to chain restaurants, who want beer and wine.
Until the BOC redraws the maps, such a shopping center is going to have to fit into fairly narrow pieces of land, making it pretty much a strip center, even if by another name.
Another questionable feature of the ordinance is the requirement that those who buy beer and wine at a restaurant must also purchase "a reasonable order of a meal or appetizer."
Attorney Haygood told the Board on March 18 that any single sale of beer or wine that didn’t include a "reasonable" amount of food would be a violation of the ordinance.
On April 1, I told Haygood I thought that was unenforceable unless the County put surveillance cameras at the cash register of every restaurant. That presumes it is possible to define what a "reasonable order" of food is.
Haygood just smiled and said that the difficult part of any such ordinance is enforcement.