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Aldermen Amend Beer Ordinance

Gene Dunn (right) passes out copies of a letter of support signed by members of the North Main Methodist Church during the City board meeting Tuesday, March 4.

City Officials Reduce Distance Requirement For Beer Permit   

By Jack Gurner


WATER VALLEY – The Dunn Family Steakhouse on North Main will soon be able to serve beer to patrons.

The restaurant was the only existing business put at a competitive disadvantage by the city beer ordinance that went into effect January 19.

During their first Tuesday meeting March 4, the board of aldermen amended the beer ordinance to reduce the distance from churches for on-premises consumption from 250 to 150 feet.

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 North Main Street Methodist Church.

Dunn explained to the alderman in February 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.”

Aldermen voted 3-2 against amending the ordinance at the February meeting.

At the March 4 meeting Dunn asked the board to take another look at his situation. “I know the last time we met you were concerned about changing the footage and protecting the churches. I am not asking you to not protect the churches. We do need to protect the churches,” he said. “I am asking you to put in an exception or some type of variance.”

Dunn added that he understood there was some concern over members of the North Main church having a problem with beer being served as his restaurant. He then passed out a letter signed by several members. He also noted that church members were present at the meeting to validate the signatures and answer questions.

“I know that we need to protect the churches. But, ladies and gentlemen, we also need to protect the businesses. In this case the only business that is affected by this ordinance. So, now you have the opportunity to do that and that is really all I have to say,” Dunn said as he concluded his brief presentation.

Board Attorney David Burns then explained the two possibilities he felt were appropriate in this situation. One would be to shorten the distance requirements overall and the other to formulate some sort of exception, he said.

“I would submit that it might be simpler if the distance requirements themselves were amended,” Burns added. “Either way, it could be done, but it would be a little more complicated to come up with an exception process.”

Dunn asked if the ordinance could be changed to interject the street that divides the two properties. Burns agreed that would be another possibility.

After a short silence, Alderman Tommy Swearengen said, “Actually, he could be grandfathered because he was in place before the ordinance.”

Attorney Burns responded that according to his research there is no “grandfathering in” under an ordinance of this type. “I think if you go that road you are opening up all sorts of issues.”

“Personally, I think he ought to be able to sell his beer,” Swearengen said. “We did it (the ordinance) in such a rush we didn’t even take him into consideration like we did the quick stop service stations when we put our distances in. I think he deserves a license.”

“We’re after business and he has tied up his life into his business,” Swearengen added. “I think he ought to have a fair shake.”

“I don’t have a problem, but we need to know what we are amending,” Alderman Fred White said.

Aldermen White and Swearengen discussed with Attorney Burns which option would be the simplest and best for the city.

“You want to just go with the distance?” Swearengen asked White and then made a motion to amend the ordinance to 150 feet. White added a second to the motion.

Mayor Bill Norris said, “…got a motion and a second to change the distance from 250 to 150 and David already has the form ready. Any questions?”

Alderman Sherry Martin asked, “Is this not the very same thing we voted on last meeting?”

“That’s the same motion,” Alderman Lance Clement added.

Aldermen Swearengen and White voted for the motion and Martin and Clement voted against.

Because of the 2-2 split, the mayor would have to vote to break the tie.

“I know the Dunn family and I know they will do a fine job up there,” Norris said. “I am going to vote yes.”

“I appreciate it,” Dunn said.

The amended ordinance takes effect 30 days from the March 4 vote.

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