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City Committee Balks on Alcohol Ordinance Change
Thursday, 19 November 2009

November 19--  There's little chance a downtown Vidalia business will get the city to change its ordinance on serving beer and wine within a hundred yards of a church.

Image  Vidalia First Baptist Church Pastor Bucky Kennedy(forefront) calls for enforcement of an existing alcohol ordinance.  In the background, left to right, are downtown Vidalia business owners Terry Edmonds and Karl and Ann Owens.

The city's License, Permit and Tax Committee chaired by council member Lisa Chesser held an hour-long hearing Thursday on the request from Karl and Ann Owens.  They'd like to offer beer and wine to adults who come to see a movie at the Pal Theater.  However, the theater falls ten feet short of meeting the distance requirements in the city ordinance.  It's only 290 feet away from the front door of the Vidalia First Baptist Church.

"I don't think there's a good enough argument to say because we've always done it this way we need to continue to do it this way," Owens told the committee.  He contends change is needed to promote development in the downown business district.  "The fact of the matter is, it is a downtown development issue and if we continue to do it like we've always done it, it's going to hinder what folks can do to add to our downtown," he said.

However, Vidalia First Baptist Church pastor Bucky Kennedy reminded the city it enforced the ordinance when a nearby convenience store barely met the distance requirements, and he asked for equal treatment in the church's favor in this case.

"This is not anything that inhibits the development of downtown.  It does inhibit what you do within a hundred yards of the church door. There are other businesses downtown which would not be prohibited.  Our issue is just do what you've always done.  The ordinance is what it is, enforce the ordinance.  You enforced it when it was not to our favor, enforce it now," he requested.

Another downtown business owner, Terry Edmonds, asked the committee to consider changing the ordinance grandfathering other downtown locations from the distance prohibition.  He said churches which move into storefronts shouldn't be allowed to invoke the rule and limit the commercial use of existing downtown property.

Committeman Eddie Tyson is against changing the law to accomodate the Owens' request, however, he along with committee member Raymond Turner and Chesser agreed to relook some of the concerns raised by Edmonds.


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