After much deliberation and months of meetings, a revision to Pell City’s Zoning Ordinance pertaining to businesses that sell alcohol as their primary activity has passed in a 3-1 vote the Pell City City Council on Monday night.
The new changes to the zoning ordinance would reduce the boundary from 1000 feet to 200 feet from a residential district, education institute, place of worship, or child development facility.
Despite vocal opposition from members of Eden Westside Baptist Church and other citizens, who were in attendance at the meeting on Monday, the proposed changes to the ordinance passed, with Council members Blaine Henderson, Jason Mitcham and James McGowan voting for and Jay Jenkins voting against. Council member Jud Alverson was not in attendance.
The ordinance was approved by the Pell City Planning Commission and has been on the City Council agenda for several months, at one point going back to the Planning Commission for revisions to compromise the distance to 500 feet. The Planning Commission sent the ordinance back unchanged. The City Council also previously held a Public Hearing opening the topic up for discussion to citizens in accordance with State Law, in which no comment either for or against was brought to the council.
According to the approved ordinance, “No lounge shall be permitted within two hundred (200) feet from an educational institution, place of worship, or child development facility. The term educational institution shall apply to all accredited State, County, City, church, or private schools, as well as colleges. The distance shall be calculated from the primary entrance of the regulated property to the nearest property line of protected property or properties.”
The business also has to meet all other criteria and come before the Planning and Zoning Commission to be approved before permitting. The lounges are only allowed in Business 2 and Business 3 zoning areas on a conditional basis, meaning that each application has to be approved by the Planning Commission and notice is sent to surrounding businesses and residents.
The ordinance also does not apply to restaurants with on-premises service licenses, convenience stores, or other off-premises sales.
The ordinance defines a “liquor lounge” as “a licensed commercial establishment engaged in the preparation, sale or serving of alcohol and/or liquor for consumption on the premises. This shall include, but not be limited to, the following: taverns, bars, cocktail lounges, micro-breweries, nightclubs, and similar uses where alcohol and/or liquor consumption is the primary activity on the premises of the establishment. This shall not include restaurants where alcohol and/or liquor consumption is a secondary activity of the establishment; nor shall it include establishments that sell alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption only; such as a package store, State Alcoholic Beverage store, supermarkets, convenience stores, etc. Such establishment shall not include Adult Entertainment as defined in this ordinance.”
Citizens voiced their concerns that the ordinance would make alcohol more accessible to the public and the possible proximity to schools and churches, although most designated B-2 and B-3 zoning areas in which “lounges” would be permitted are not near churches or schools within the city limits.
“Witnessing the devastating and negative effects alcohol has had on individual families, churches and society as a whole, I strongly oppose the change in making alcohol sales and consumption even more accessible than it already is,” Bro. Jacky Connell, Pastor at Eden Westside Baptist Church addressed the council. “Many laws and changes have already been made to accommodate the accessibility and purchase of alcohol in this city, even Sunday sales have been approved. I believe that such approval goes against what the Bible teaches and what the church should stand for. I regretfully and admittedly say publicly that these changes have been made in this city while the church as been preoccupied with broken lives, shattered families, that have been caused in many cases because of the use of alcohol and drugs. And the church has been a sleeping giant while many of these have been made. Well, the sleeping giant of the church, under my watch care, has been awakened.”
“We stand together to say no and assert notice we will say no to anything else that opposes what we believe contradicts the teaching of Holy Scripture that may negatively affect the wellbeing and health and welfare of this city,” Connell continued.
Another member of the Eden Westside Baptist Church congregation, Stephanie Newton, also spoke at the city council meeting. “As a church that is focused on restoration for more than three decades, we know first hand the effects of alcoholism and the bar lifestyle on the family and individual. It has been my great joy to personally counsel, mentor, teach and encourage those who chose to leave the brokenness of alcoholism and to walk in sobriety. More often than not, addictions come from recurrent, repetitive frequency to bars. When people come to our church or any church for help, when they sit in the parking lot to get the courage to walk through the door to choose a different path, they should not have to choose between a door to a bar and a door to a church.”
Council President James McGowan addressed the large crowd, stating, “I want to thank you for your comments and your concerns. We did have a public hearing on this matter. I’m happy to have you here tonight. I think all of us welcome you here to welcome your thoughts.”
“I appreciate everyone turning out to share your thoughts on this. We had a couple of public hearings before. I think all of this has brought about another issue that I would like to address with y’all,” stated Mayor Bill Pruitt . “This discussion actually started back in December with Planning and Zoning and I appreciate the fact that everyone wants to be involved in this discussion. What I ask of you though is, as concerned citizens, there are things you can do so you can be involved in these discussions sooner. Visit the city website that has the city council agenda, planning and zoning agenda, and zoning adjustments board. This [ordinance] has been working its way to us for many months. We’ve had two public hearings and every meeting we’ve discussed this thing we’ve passed around any comments we’ve received from the public.”
“We appreciate your willingness to be involved but we need you to be involved,” Pruitt continued. “We need you to go to the website and see what’s coming up on the agenda and see if there is anything of interest or concern to you because we want that feedback.”
When the ordinance came up for a vote, those in attendance were disappointed in the outcome, as the motion passed with a vote of 3-1.
Council member Jay Jenkins proposed an amendment to the ordinance, changing the distance to 500 feet instead of the 200 feet approved by the Planning Commission.
“It is amazing to me that we are discussing a distance of 200 feet for a bar when our own city regulations state that a gas station cannot be located less than 500 feet from a place of public assembly,” Jenkins said. “I am still opposed to this and have been since the beginning.”
The ordinance had been sent back to the Planning Commission with the proposed change to 500 feet distance in May, which Jenkins had proposed during a previous City Council meeting, but the recommendation came back unchanged to the council agenda for June 10. The vote was delayed at that time pending more discussion.
“We’ve done our best to get the word out,” McGowan said. “We have families and children, too and want to do what is best for our city.”
City council meetings are held at Pell City City Hall on the second and fourth Monday of each month at 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. For more information on the meeting agenda, visit www.pell-city.com.