Churches oppose change to alcohol ordinance

Don’t want change to downtown distance requirement

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ALPHARETTA, Ga. – Two local churches showed up at the July 16 Alpharetta City Council meeting to oppose lowering the distance requirements of pubs and restaurants serving alcohol from schools and churches.

After discussion, the ordinance change was tabled for at least a week.

The City Council is proposing to change the distance from 300 feet to 50 feet. The move is part of the relaxation of its alcohol ordinances in the downtown district in recognition of the district’s “special character,” and the desire to make the downtown a more sociable and vibrant part of the community.

The council last year made a special provision for the consumption of alcohol outdoors for special events such as the downtown’s Oktoberfest.

The change was suggested after school was proposed in the downtown district. Although the application was later withdrawn, the construction of a school, although only proposing a few students, would have prevented any establishment serving alcohol in the Milton Avenue block under the current ordinance.

Councilman Donald Mitchell said the change was to recognize the special character of the downtown, and ensure it would have the chance to develop as a place of entertainment.

But the Rev. Jonathan Wilson, an associate pastor at Alpharetta First Baptist Church rose to object to the change.

While the church is not technically in the downtown district, it is across the street from it on the north side of Academy Street. In addition to its congregation and day care, the church operates a school with 300 students.

“If you were allowing alcohol served across the street from Alpharetta Elementary School, you might have had more opposition,” Wilson said.

He pointed out the church across the street from City Hall had no buffer other than the 50-foot rule.

However, councilman D.C. Aiken pointed out the way distance is measured in the district under the ordinance, it is from doorway to sidewalk and then to the door of the church or school.

“Under the ordinance, any place serving alcohol under the current ordinance would be allowed, because it is more than 300 feet,” Aiken said. “So this does not change anything for you.”

The Rev. Ollie Wagner, senior pastor at Alpharetta Presbyterian Church, also spoke against the ordinance change. His church is a little farther east on Academy Street. He too was worried what the effect would be for his congregation as well as for the Baptists.

“We are here for our concern for our neighbor church but also what the effect might be as the center grows,” Wagner said. “Our churches are busy all week long. We both have schools, we have activities and organizations such as Alcoholics Anonymous meet at the church. We’re busy every night also with youth groups and theater groups.”

Wagner noted once an alcohol permit is granted, the business can change – have loud music and outdoor activities.

“We support the downtown, we just think the reduction of the ordinance would affect our congregation,” he said. “Would you want those activities next to your house? Then have the same consideration for God’s house.”

Aiken said he could understand their concerns. But he said the ordinance change was not to allow infringement on their churches. The change was in recognition of what was coming to the new City Center, and reflect those changes.

“We always wanted to protect you,” Aiken said.

Mayor David Belle Isle said for the area to become active and successful, it would need eight to nine restaurants all within walking distance of each other. That would create the necessary critical mass.

Councilman Jim Gilvin said he wanted the distances measured, to see how far the church door was from the district as measured by the city. He asked the matter be tabled until next week. The motion passed unanimously.

After the meeting, Wilson said he understood what the city is trying to do.

“I just want them to consider what our congregation will be looking at when they step out the front door of their church,” Wilson said.