Liquor-by-the-drink legislation is now on a fast track, with the Oconee County Board of Commissioners scheduled to give an ordinance its first reading on Tuesday night and approve the law on Jan. 6.
County Clerk Jane Greathouse released the agendas for both meetings just before 4:30 on Friday, and the county web site contains a notice of the meetings and a draft of the ordinance commissioners will consider.
That ordinance incorporates the previously separate provisions of the county’s liquor law for recreational clubs, but it is otherwise unchanged from the ordinance County Attorney Daniel Haygood drafted for the commissioners in July.
Oconee County voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum authorizing the BOC to pass a liquor-by-the-drink ordinance on Nov. 4, meaning that the commissioners could have taken up the issue at their meetings on Nov. 11, Nov. 25 or Dec. 2 rather than wait until now to take action.
The only restaurant owner who has publicly called for passage of an ordinance providing for the issuance of a licenses for liquor by the drink is Allen Peake, co-owner of Cheddar’s Casual Café restaurant franchises in Georgia.
Peake, a Republican, represents Macon in the Georgia House of Representatives.
The Cheddar’s on Epps Bridge Parkway is set to open soon, and Peake said in an email message he sent to Commissioner more than a year ago that liquor-by-the-drink was essential to the operation of his restaurant.
Peake and co-owner Mike Chumbley appeared before the BOC on Nov. 25, when they made application for a beer and wine license for Cheddar’s. Peake told the commissioners that being able to serve alcohol not just beer and wine is “an important part of our business plan” for the restaurant.
The BOC granted Peake a beer and wine license at its meeting on Dec. 2.
Construction work continues on Cheddar’s, with the parking lots unpaved this weekend and other work yet undone.
Next door, Freddy's Frozen Custard And Steakburgers, opened to big crowds over the weekend.
Key Provisions Unchanged
The ordinance released to the public on Friday leaves in place key provisions of the county’s existent beer and wine ordinance and simply creates a new license category for “retail distilled spirits by the drink which may only be issued for a restaurant as defined herein.”
The definition of a restaurant as a business with a minimum of 75 percent of its gross income being derived from the sale of meals and appetizers remains.
The draft ordinance also continues the stipulation that “each sale which includes an alcoholic beverage” also must include “a reasonable order of a meal or appetizer.”
The ordinance the BOC will be reviewing also continues the restriction that licenses can only be issued in areas of the county designated by the BOC for alcohol sales and leaves that map unchanged.
The county at present loosely monitors compliance with the 75 percent rule and does not enforce the rule on food purchases with drinks.
Commissioners Can Alter
The ordinance that is before the commissioners is not necessarily the one that they will pass, and Chairman Melvin Davis has signaled that he is open to change.
Mike Sprayberry, who writes for The Oconee Leader, reported in the Sept. 25 edition of the paper that Davis told him he expected the ratio of food and alcohol to change.
Sprayberry almost always talks to Davis when he writes his column, and he includes lengthy quotes, seemingly transcribed verbatim, from the chairman.
Here’s what he said Davis told him:
“When I look at surrounding counties that have liquor by the drink, the majority have a 50/50 ratio. I don’t think we’d go that low, but I think maybe 60/40 or 65/35.”
In his column of Nov. 13, Sprayberry quotes Davis as saying the location of restaurants, the hours of operation, and “the ratio of food service to alcohol service” were all topics to be considered in modifying the existing ordinance.
The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
Reason For Ratio
The BOC set the current ratio at 75 percent food and 25 percent alcohol in 2008 as a way to assure that beer and wine were being sold in family restaurants and not bars.
A bar might well sell almost no food.
The developers of The Falls of Oconee boutique shopping center have indicated they plan to include restaurants in the planned center.
The shopping center is to be on Old Macon Highway across from Athens Ridge and near to River Club, student housing complexes.
That location of the planned shopping center is listed on the current map as an area in which beer and wine licenses can be issued.
If the map is unchanged, alcohol could also be sold at those restaurants.
A search of the Internet shows that the ratio of food to alcohol used in issuing alcohol licenses varies around the country and is a topic of some controversy
The Watkinsville City Council on Wednesday voted to put a referendum on the ballot in a special election in March to allow voters to decide if they want the city to pass an ordinance allowing liquor by the drink at city restaurants.
Patrick Lang, one of the owners of Chops & Hops in Town Center in Watkinsville, told the Council he was concerned about the gap between when the county puts an ordinance into place and when the city allows him to sell alcohol at his restaurant.
City Attorney Joe Reitman said an ordinance could be on the agenda for the April meeting of the Mayor and Council if city voters approve the referendum.
The Council meetings are held on the second Wednesday of the month.