BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The topics of possibility extending weekend drinking hours for restaurants and the future of employee permits headlined the discussion at the third Blue Ridge Alcohol Committee meeting Tuesday, May 29.
The meeting consisted of an informal round-table discussion that included the committee, which consists of city council members Robbie Cornelius and Harold Herndon, city residents David Gray (absent from the meeting) and Larry Versyn, and local business owners Stuart Arp and Ken Brenneman, as well as Mayor Donna Whitener, Police Chief Johnny Scearce, city supervisor of tax and licensing Sally Smith, and local business owners Brendan Doyle and Scott Peters.
The idea of extending hours during which establishments are allowed to serve alcohol was originally proposed by Arp, owner of Chester Brunnemeyer’s Bar and Grill, at the first Alcohol Committee meeting April 11. Arp suggested extending the cut off time for alcohol service from 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
Arp stressed to the committee and attendees that he felt businesses are losing tourist dollars from visitors who are unaware of the 11:30 p.m. cut off time and do not begin to arrive in the downtown area until 9:30 or 10 p.m.
“It would be a good thing to give us the option, whether (business owners) implement it or not,” said Doyle, owner of The Boro Inn, of the possibility of extending the cut off time on weekends.
In addition, Arp stated he would like to amend the beginning of alcohol service from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Brenneman, owner of Blue Jeans Pizza and Pasta, objected to the idea of modifying the morning start time for alcohol sales. “We have places of business that serve breakfast, and if they want to serve a mimosa, they ought to be able to serve a mimosa. Just like you ought to be able, or you guys are pushing, to serve liquor at 1 a.m. in the morning,” Brenneman stated to Arp.
To this, Arp clarified his proposal was for a 12:30 a.m. cut off with all patrons to be vacated from establishments by 1 a.m.
“There are events that drive people in here that are looking to go out late,” Arp stated. “Even some of the employees, there’s no place for them to go (after work) because (businesses are) already closed. I don’t think 12:30 a.m. is egregious by any means … and I’m only saying for two nights a week.”
Concerning the potential 12:30 a.m. cut off, Versyn stated he believed it was “not unreasonable.”
Mayor Whitener also mentioned she felt a later cut off could possibly attract local residents who work until 6 or 7 p.m. or even later to come out who normally would not.
Regarding employee serving permits, the committee revisited the proposed ordinance amendment from January, which would require employees to reapply for a new permit every year at a cost of $30 instead of once every three years.
When Cornelius asked the business owners present where they stood on the proposal, Arp, Doyle and Peters all felt the change would be too much of a hardship for employees. Brenneman, however, favored the change to one year.
Offering an explanation for the proposed change, Smith told the committee of a local bartender who had recently received two DUIs (driving under the influence) in the time following the issuance of his serving permit. “We never knew about it (and) he’s not supposed to have that,” Smith said, referring to the serving permit.
“I can understand both sides; I’d split the difference (and) go two years,” Chief Scearce said. “You’re right on some points and you’re right on your points, but what I’m saying is this … say someone got out there and got popped in Atlanta at a concert with a bag of dope in their pocket … We’d never know about it till we run (a check).”
The committee also discussed the legality of “sip and shop” events at downtown businesses.
At the May 2 meeting, Versyn stated he had heard of retail establishments serving alcohol to patrons after hours while they shopped, and he expressed a concern over this.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Chief Scearce explained business owners cannot serve or sell alcohol to customers either privately or after hours, but business owners themselves are allowed to consume alcohol in their place of business after hours.
“You’re saying it’s still okay to lock the doors and then drink all night long in their establishment as long as they’re not selling it?” Versyn asked Scearce.
Again, Scearce stressed to Versyn business owners are not allowed to serve customers, but “if these (owners) want to sit in their business after it’s closed and sit there all night long and get drunk off their hind end, I could care less. But when they come out on that road, they’re mine.”
Also, in the January ordinance amendments, which passed a first public hearing by the city council but was never adopted, a provision was proposed for the mayor and/or council members who hold a 10 percent or higher ownership in an establishment to recuse him or herself from voting on any matter that would involve said establishment.
The Alcohol Committee appeared in agreement that this amendment should be approved as originally presented.
Moving forward, City Attorney James Balli is expected to draft a new proposal for amendments to the alcohol ordinance based on the recommendations and discussions of the Alcohol Committee over the past two months and present them to the city council at a future meeting.
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