By Jack Gurner
WATER VALLEY – A second Yalobusha County business has been put at a competitive disadvantage by distance requirements in the local beer ordinances.
The Dunn Family Steakhouse on North Main Street in Water Valley will not be allowed to sell beer for on-premises consumption because of its location near the North Main Methodist Church.
Last month, County Supervisors denied a request by John Crawford to sell beer for off-premises consumption at his Sylva Rena Grocery and Bait Store. Crawford’s business is located within 300 feet of the church on Hwy. 32 west of Water Valley.
Dunn Family Steakhouse owner Gene Dunn appeared at the postponed meeting of the Water Valley Board of Alderman Monday night to ask the board to be allowed to sell beer at his restaurant on North Main Street.
In mid-January Dunn told the Herald that he hoped to work with city officials to sell beer at his location, which – by his measurement – is 163 feet from the church. The required distance for on-premises sales is 250 feet, according to the ordinance.
Dunn explained that he never intended to sell on Sunday even if he had the opportunity and that he would not sell on Wednesday night, which he planned to develop into a strong family night. “We plan to keep the family atmosphere,” he added.
“You won’t get drunk in my establishment and stay, I assure you,” he said. “It’s not a juke joint and never will be one.”
Alderman Fred White asked Dunn if he had talked with church members. Dunn replied that he had and “they seem to have no problem with it.”
City Attorney David Burns commented that there were two ways to handle the request. One would be to grant an exception to the distance requirement. “However, the ordinance is not currently drawn to allow for any type of exception like that.”
The second would be to amend the ordinance to lessen the distance requirement, he said.
“If the ordinance was amended it wouldn’t stop with him,” said Alderman White. “Anybody who applied would abide by that same amended ordinance.”
“The problem I see,” Alderman Lance Clement added, “is even if this church doesn’t have a problem with it, you may have a church that does have a problem. That’s going to open it up for anyone to come in with these new distances. I just think the churches need to be afforded that protection.”
After some additional discussion, Alderman Charlie Harris moved to amend the ordinance.
“I think we need to get a recommendation from that church and see what they think before we do anything,” Alderman White added.
Alderman Tommy Swearengen said, “I think Fred’s right.”
“Can I ask one question?” Dunn asked. “I understand what you are saying. But, how can you say it’s okay for a man to walk out of Sprint Mart toting his beer and wave at the church across the road and he can’t walk into my restaurant – in concealment – and drink a beer because of the footage?”
“The thing I am going by is there is no consumption on Sunday and none on Wednesday,” commented Alderman Harris.
“I’ll second Charlie’s motion,” added Alderman Swearengen. “But, like Fred, I want to have an understanding from the church.”
After some additional discussion of technical aspects of the proposed changes, Alderman Sherry Johnson commented, “I think you need to go back and think about why you voted for 250 to start with. Have you changed your mind? Did it not mean anything?”
Attorney Burns then spelled out the proposed amendment, which would change the distance from 250 feet to 150 feet. “And, the written amendment could be presented to the board for consideration at the next meeting,” Burns said.
Mayor Bill Norris called for a vote and Aldermen Harris and Swearengen voted for the motion and Aldermen Martin, Clement and White voted against.
Dunn asked if he could say one final thing. “I just want y’all to understand that I appreciate the fact y’all have allowed me to come into a situation where competition can move in and completely destroy me and my family…what I have worked hard for. You have Mexican restaurants which can serve beer and I can not even compete with them on an even playing field.”
“You’ve done that and that’s pretty sad,” Dunn continued. “I appreciate those of you who have supported me and I am going to continue to do things for this town because that’s what I want to do. But, it really appalls me that you have put this kind of stumbling block on me. I have a mortgage I have to pay for. Somebody can move in and open up a steak house an serve beer and I can’t even compete with them.”
As he left the meeting, Dunn told the Herald, “That is the most ludicrous thing I have even seen. I am going to talk to my lawyer in the morning.”
In other actions:
• Dolly Neely Pierce had presented a letter to the aldermen at the January meeting outlining the difficulties she had experienced since fire destroyed her home July 28, 2007. The letter explained that she was unaware that she had to have permits to clean up the property or that she was in a zone that prohibits manufactured homes.
The mayor asked Pierce to present her petition. She responded by saying that she wished the board “would have a heart and let me go back home.”
Mayor Norris then asked if there were any objections and recognized Steve Ross, a next door neighbor to Pierce. Ross questioned how Pierce had gotten that far along in the process without permits.
Ross expressed sympathy for Pierce, but said, “I oppose it because of the property value in that area. And, if you change it now you are going to have to change it for the whole City of Water Valley.”
Another neighbor, Rufus Ross of 921 Blackmur, also expressed sympathy for Pierce and emphasized that he wasn’t against Pierce living there. However, he was against allowing a mobile home on the property.
Linda Phillips, speaking on behalf of Ms. Pierce, asked the board to have a heart.
Alderman Fred White injected that “somebody stated that the whole board voted for this ordinance. I want to make it known that I did not vote for it”
The mayor asked if there was a motion and Alderman White moved to rezone the property. The motion died for lack of a second.
• The board approved payment of two invoices for work under a federal grant at the airport
• Aldermen accepted a bid from the Terex Corporation for an aerial truck for the Electric Department.
• The board approved giving local insurance agent Andy Shaw an agent letter of record to handle insurance affairs for the city.
• The aldermen voted to advertise for a fireman/dispatcher to fill the position left open after the loss of Scott Spence to the Southaven Fire Department.
• The board approved a bid of $20,110 by Ratliff Water Well Service, Inc. of Holcomb for the replacement of one of the city’s water wells which had been in operation since 1973.
• The aldermen heard from Attorney Burns who explained a proposed amendment to the 2005 ordinance detailing water and sewer rates in the city. The amendment calls for an across the board rate increase and eliminates the decending rate which had been in effect.
The board also heard from representatives of the Jeff Davis Rural Water System who expressed concern on how the new rates would affect their customers.
Aldermen voted to take the amendment under advisement until a special called meeting on Feb. 19 at 6:30 p.m.
• Attorney Burns reported to the board that the city’s insurance company had denied a claim for water damages to the Blackmur Memorial Library. The denial, Burns said, was because of findings that the damage was the result of surface water.
After discussion of several alternative solutions, the aldermen voted to allow Joe Newman, manager of the city electric department, to handle repairs to the library using city personel at considerable savings.
• Aldermen voted to pay a $3024.14 invoice from City Attorney Burns.
• Mayor Norris explained the Great American Clean-Up program to the board.
• The aldermen voted to obtain credit cards for the city to cover costs incurred when city employees attend out of town training and meetings. “It’s a very secure way to keep up with the charges,” commented Newman, electric department manager. Alderman Sherry Martin voted against the motion.
• Board members voted to accept a bid of $64.75 per ton for asphalt and installation from Lehman-Roberts Co of Batesville. The bid was the only one submitted.
• Aldermen voted to approve a public hearing notice for the Baker Street Park grant. The date, according to Mayor Norris will probably be March 4.
• The board voted to go into executive session to discuss what was listed on the agenda as “personnel matter and prospective litigations.”
• After returning to regular session after approximately an hour, the alderman voted to hire Randy Morgan, a Charleston firm, to open and close graves in both city cemeteries. There was a question regarding the use of other firms and board members agreed to compile a list of approved companies.
• Board members voted to advertise for a lawn care firm to mow the cemetery and also handle other grass cutting chores within the city.
• Alderman approved Mary Lucia Holloway to replace Bob Tyler on the Economic Development District board. Tyler recently moved up to the position of director.