At a time when county officials are considering a referendum to allow the sale of liquor by the drink to entice restaurants to the area, the city of Bishop is going in the opposite direction by considering a rezone request to convert a historic home into a restaurant that will not be allowed to sell even beer and wine.
The parallel actions show the complexity of decisions that could be before voters in November.
Citizens in the county’s four cities will vote in a referendum, if the Oconee County Board of Commissioners decides to put on the ballot, as is widely expected.
But, if voters across the county approve, the decision will affect only the unincorporated parts of the county.
Each of the cities will have to hold its own referendum to allow voters in those cities to decide if they want to allow liquor by the drink inside city boundaries.
At present, the focus of discussion in the county is on the sale of liquor by the drink in restaurants, but county--and city-- officials also could ask voters to decide on Sunday sales in restaurants, grocery and convenience stores and even on whether to have liquor stores in the county.
Bishop House Restaurant
Bishop will take up the rezone request for the property on which the historic Bishop House sits at 7 p.m. on Monday at the Town Hall.
That is when the mayor and five-member Council of the city in the south of the county has its regular meeting. Bishop has an official population of just 224.
The county Planning Commission voted unanimously on April 21 to recommend that the Council approve the rezone.
The county Planning Department also recommended the rezone in its staff report of April 11.
Recommendations On Buffers
The staff report recommended that the Bishop Mayor and Council approve an evergreen hedge in lieu of a buffer on the southern boundary of the property and waive the requirement for supplemental evergreen plantings within the required buffer along the western boundary of the site. The Planning Commission concurred.
The county Planning Department and the county Planning Commission review zoning issues for Bishop, Bogart and North High Shoals, using zoning ordinances written by the three cities.
Watkinsville handles its own zoning, though it, along with Bishop, Bogart and North High Shoals, has a designated member on the 12-person county Planning Commission.
The action by the Bishop City Council will be final. The matter will not come before the Oconee County Board of Commissioners, which makes zoning decisions only for the unincorporated parts of the county.
Details Of Rezone
The estate of R.T. and Betty S. MacPherson has asked the city of Bishop to rezone the 2.5- acre-lot at 4851 Macon Highway from single family residential use (R-1) to general business (B-1) so the historic Bishop House on the property can be converted to a restaurant.
According to the narrative for the application, Blyth and Diana Biggs plan to purchase the property with the purpose of operating a “small, family-style restaurant” in the Bishop House as well as use it as an event venue.
The Victorian-era, Queen Anne style Bishop House was built in 1908 and is in the center of Bishop on U.S. 441 (Macon Highway). The district is designed historic by the city.
“The house, with its spacious rooms, high ceilings, wide passageways and large windows, makes for an inviting dining venue of traditional southern fare,” according to the narrative, submitted by Smith Planning Group of 1022 Twelve Oaks Place east of Butler’s Crossing.
The Biggs told the Planning Commission they hope to have the restaurant open in July or August.
Bruce MacPherson, son of R.T. and Betty PacPherson, is a member of the Planning Commission representing Bishop. He did not attend the meeting on April 21.
The narrative states that the restaurant will use the 3,500-square-foot first floor of the Bishop House, with seating for 80 persons.
The Biggs plan to live on the 2,684-square-foot second floor, according to the narrative.
The residential use will be possible only if the Mayor and Council approve a waiver of Bishop’s Zoning Ordinance, which does not allow for mixed use of property.
The Mayor and Council also are being asked to approve a second variance to the city’s zoning ordinance to allow a gravel, 33-space parking area behind and to the side of the house. The ordinance requires paved parking.
The rear of the lot, with open lawns and large pecan and oak trees, will remain open.
The lot has county water. Sewer services will be through a septic system.
City Alcohol Ordinances
Bishop currently does not allow the sale of any alcoholic beverages within its city limits, and Mayor Johnny Pritchett told me in a telephone conversation on April 27 that there is no discussion of changing that situation.
North High Shoals, the second smallest city in the county, also does not allow the sale of any type of alcoholic beverages in the city.
Bogart has an ordinance allowing for the sale of beer and wine in convenience stores, according to City Clerk Diane Craft, but it does not have an ordinance for sale of beer and wine in restaurants.
Craft said there currently are no restaurants in the city.
Watkinsville Led Restaurant Sales
Watkinsville’s Council approved the sale of beer and wine in the city’s restaurants shortly before the Oconee County Board of Commissioners did the same for the unincorporated area in 2008.
Watkinsville as well as the county already allowed beer and wine package sales in groceries and convenience stores.
Beer and wine sales are regulated by city and county governments and don’t require voter approval. Allowed alcoholic beverages cannot contain more than 21 percent alcohol by volume, according to the county’s ordinance.
The sale of other types of alcoholic beverages must be approved by the voters.
Oconee Voting History
Oconee County voted on alcohol by the drink three times in the last 25 years, as shown in the chart above. Pat Hayes, chair, Oconee County Board of Elections and Registration, provided me with the election results. (The 2002 results also are on the state web site.)
The first vote was in 1990, when just less than 52 percent of the voters in the July primary voted against liquor by the drink.
In 1996, the issue was again on the ballot, this time in a March special election. The vote was just less than 60 percent against liquor by the drink.
The most recent vote was in 2002, and just less than 55 percent of the voters cast a ballot against liquor by the drink.
Most Precincts Against In 2002
The state records show that in 2002 voters in all but two of the county’s then 14 precincts voted against liquor by the drink, though the voters in the Bishop precinct (which includes more than just the city) voted just slightly (50.6 percent) against the issue.
The 2002 vote was in a November general election, comparable to the November ballot this year.
Turnout is a key determination of election outcomes. At present, it seems the gubernatorial election and U.S. Senate elections will be hotly contested, possibly bringing out more voters.
The Oconee County Board of Commissioners also has put a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum on the November ballot.
In November of 2002, voters in Oconee County were asked to approve a bond issue for Veterans Park at the same time they were asked to decide on liquor by the drink,.
Voters approved the bond issue, with 51.9 percent voting in favor, while turning down liquor by the drink.
Watkinsville Under Pressure
If the Oconee County Board of Commissioners decides to put liquor by the drink on the ballot, the city of Watkinsville likely will want to do the same.
Restaurants in Watkinsville otherwise would be at a disadvantage in competition with others in the county, should the county vote pass.
Watkinsville voters could be voting twice, once for liquor by the drink in the county and once for liquor by the drink inside the city limits of Watkinsville.
Unless the city of Bishop also decides to change its ordinances, the restaurant in the historic Bishop House would be competing by serving “traditional southern fare” but not beer, wine or liquor.