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Ordinance Anti-Business Say Critics

Justin Showah questioned portions of the amended beer ordinance in last week’s city board meeting in Water Valley in front of a packed board room. – Photos by Jack Gurner

By Jack Gurner

WATER VALLEY – Beer was on the agenda, but business was on the minds of a standing room only crowd of local business people and supporters who filled the city board room Jan. 6.
    About 50 people were on hand for the first Tuesday meeting of the mayor and board of aldermen to hear Justin Showah, owner of the Crawdad Hole, question portions of the city’s new beer ordinance, which some local business people consider overreaching and detrimental to business.
    But, before Showah spoke, Mayor Larry Hart announced that a “little cleaning up” needed to be done on the beer ordinance. The mayor read from section 7 of the ordinance and said that wording requiring beer or light wine to only be served simultaneously with food would be changed to allow beer or light wine to be served in anticipation of a meal.
    That requirement had been questioned because liquor and wine could be served before restaurant customers received their meal under state law.
    Hart continued that in section 8 the term “refrigerated” needed to be added and the prohibition against sales of single-packed items was dropped. Under the old ordinance retailers with off premises licenses were prohibited from selling refrigerated beer or light wine, but the term was apparently left out of the new ordinance.
    Before the change, retailers were restricted to selling beer and light wine in quantities of less than six-packs or quart bottles for beer or four-packs for light wine “or their metric equivalent.”
    Finally, the mayor noted that the word “lewd” needed to be added to section 11. However, more than the one word was added. The new line reads: “No person shall cause or permit any lewd, immoral or improper entertainment conduct practice in or upon the premises.”
    A similar line was added to the second paragraph of the section for licensees, employees or agents.
    Hart said that the amendments would be effective as provided by law. In this case that translates to 30 days from the Jan. 6 meeting date  because of the absence of Alderman Fred White.
    The mayor then introduced Showah who started his presentation by thanking the board for allowing him to speak. “We feel like being a property owner and a home owner and having everything in our whole life invested in the town of Water Valley, at this point we deserve a chance to have some sort of say-so in how our businesses are run and the ordinances that are passed that affect us directly,” Showah began.
    He said that his business was affected by five or six of the articles including the reporting requirements that would put the amount of money coming into his business into public record. “That should be private information,” said Showah. “It puts an undue burden on our bookkeeping system.”
    Quarterly reports and documentation are listed under sections 7.01 and 7.02 and require detailed listings of the amounts purchased for resale of food, non-food items and beer and light wine. The reports also require sales figures for those items. The ordinance gives the city the authority to increase the frequency of reporting to monthly.
    Showah next questioned the increase in the annual privilege tax fee from $25 to $250 for a business that sells beer on-premise. The mayor said that he would answer that by saying there is more record keeping pertaining to the licensee in the sale of beer, which caused an outburst of laughter from the audience. 
    “So you are going to charge me extra because you have to keep up with my sales?” Showah asked and added, “It cost that much money.”
    Hart noted that many other towns charge $500 or $1000 for the yearly license.
    When Showah further questioned the fee, the mayor basically repeated his answer that there is more record keeping involved.
    “I would like y’all to consider our dissatisfaction with having to pay $250 for no real reason,” he added.
    “We’ll note that,” Hart said.
    Showah next comments concerned section 9, physical requirement for restaurants selling beer or light wine. “Why would a beer seller be the only business on Main Street required to have equal bathrooms for male and female?” he asked. “Why not the auto parts; why not the coffee shop; why not the hardware store?”
    Showah said that every building downtown was built with one restroom originally. Hart asked if he didn’t think that it would be “a good sanitary move” to have facilities.
    “The state of Mississippi doesn’t require it,” Showah answered. I think that having a bathroom that is sanitary and clean is adequate, in my opinion.”
    Hart told Showah that he was “grandfathered” in and only had to have one bathroom. But, Showah countered that if he tried to open the Crawdad Hold today, he would not be able to without spending a lot more money.
    He then turned to the aldermen and asked if they thought it was fair for a business to be required to have two bathroom when one satisfied the Mississippi health code?
    Alderman Phillip Tallant answered, “I think a new restaurant coming into town would be big enough, Justin, to need two restrooms.”
    Showah said that he agreed, but noted that the three newest do not, referring to his business, Hometown Pizza and D&D Barbecue. None of us have two restrooms.
    “Y’all are grandfathered in anyway,” Tallant responded, “So, that’s not an issue.”
    Several of the aldermen echoed Tallant’s comment about his business being grandfathered. Showah said that he understood that, but people like him who wanted to open places here would be under the burden of having two restrooms. “I don’t think that facilitates a welcoming climate for restaurants like mine.”
    Aldermen Larry Bell asked if square footage might be used as a consideration for requiring two bathrooms. The mayor quickly responded, “We’ll acknowledge that and give it some consideration.”
    As the discussion continued, Showah praised the cooperation he has received from the various city departments. “I will say that any and everything I have ever asked from yourself (referring to the mayor) and any of the city services has been prompt, professional and A-plus,” he said. “That’s why I am asking everyone to hear us out because I think reason can prevail if we talk through it.”
    As the discussion of the two bathroom requirement ended, Showah said that he believed the additional burden would scare away people who might consider opening a restaurant here.
    The next point of discussion was from section 11, which covers loud, boisterous or disorderly conduct. “We’re family oriented. We have acoustic music one night a week,” said Showah. “Noise is something that is subjective. Is there some way that we can be assured that we are not going to be shut down at eight o’clock having some quiet music?”
    The mayor asked Police Chief Mike King about the city’s noise ordinance. King said, “Specifically 11 p.m.,” referring to the time at which events which create noise are shut down.
    The mayor said that the spirit of the law is “out of control, loud, boisterous…that type thing. Which I don’t think you’ll ever do.”
    After several minutes of discussion of the subjective nature of determining noise level, Showah said, “I just know that if you have an establishment and you want to have a band, you are going to be worried about being shut down because of noise.”
    “In your case, not before eleven o’clock,” Hart responded.
    Next, Showah  asked about article 18, which prohibits signs or displays advertising beer or light wine on either the outside of a business or inside that can be seen from the street. “Water Valley has a sign ordinance. Does that not cover signs,” he questioned, referring to section 113 of the 2006 zoning and development ordinance. “What can’t I put a Yalobusha Brewery sign in my window?”
    “This was the original ordinance,” responded Hart. “You’re asking a group that did not style that.”
    “But, it is in this one,” said Showah.
    The mayor replied: “I feel like that was probably discussed and the previous board, under the legal counsel  of David Burns, came to that conclusion. And I think that is sufficient for what we need to do here.”
    “So that is not something that y’all are willing to work on?” Showah asked. “I can’t display the sale of a legal product in my establishment. But, not for tobacco or liquor…only beer.”
    “Per this ordinance,” the mayor said. “This is a beer and light wine ordinance.”
    “So, once again we are being discriminated against. Only the beer places can’t put it in the window,” said Showah. “Anybody else with any other vices can put it in the window.”
    “A vice?” questioned the mayor.
    Showah’s final question was on the provision in section 20 that allows up to 12 months for city authorities to hear the “facts and circumstances” regarding the suspension or revocation of a privilege license.
    The mayor, aldermen and board attorney explained that due process would be more or less immediate.
    During his final comments, Showah told city officials that he would like for them to consider “where we are coming from” as citizens and homeowners of Water Valley. He added that he has a standing offer to go to another city and run a larger establishment, but he likes Water Valley and wants to remain here.
    “I would like to see more restaurants come here and more businesses,” he added. “But, the ones that I have spoken to aren’t real keen on this ordinance being conducive to them opening a place.”
    Showah asked if one of the aldermen would make a motion to “toss this thing out and go back to the old one,” referring to bringing to a vote a motion to revoke the new ordinance and going back to the original 2007 ordinance.
    Hart asked the aldermen if there was a motion to “toss the most current ordinance and the recent amendment.” After a moment he said, “There is no motion.”
    Aldermen said they would consider what Showah said. Alderman-at-large Donald Gray said that he would go over the sections he marked and consider Showah’s statements. “I am willing to do that, of course.”
    “People aren’t coming here to build restaurants,” Showah concluded. “A lot of us may leave and go to other towns that are friendly to our kind of business. I know it seems like a minor thing because we sell so little beer. But, to us it is an infringement on how we like to run our business.”
    “The old ordi-nance…OK…the new one steps over the line. And in doing so, putting the church waiver in there, 10 or 12 other things were inserted that are not in the old one. So, I don’t buy it that is the pure reason for the new one because there are so many other things in there besides that,” said Showah.
    At the conclusion of the presentation, the mayor said, “We are going to take your input under consideration.” He then turned and directed his next comments to Showah: “Now listen to me. You’re our man. We love the Crawdad Hole. And as you said, the city has been very helpful with you and nothing is going to change about that. We’re still going to support you and other people who are doing these things.
    “When we consider an ordinance, we have to consider the entire community,” said Hart. “I want you to appreciate that even if you don’t understand it. We’re doing our best to focus on you, on Beau Bailey…anybody who is trying to open up a business in Water Valley.
    “And remember, there are other businesses in Water Valley, as you have eluded to. I’m one of them. I started a business 20-something years ago and the walls had silt there. So, you aren’t just talking to some people who don’t know. We’ve got business people sitting here. We’ve got legal counsel sitting here.”
    “But,” countered Showah, “If a law was passed that affected your business, wouldn’t you want to have a say-so and input?”
    “I don’t have it in a lot of ’em,” Hart responded. “But, I appreciate you coming. This door is always open to you. We’re going to continue to work with you is my point. And, you are not going to leave Water Valley. So, get that out of your head.”
    Later, after the meeting Showah told the Herald that he appreciated the Board giving him an opportunity to speak publicly about this new beer ordinance. “I also appreciate the Board’s amendment of two key sections of the ordinance – – one having to do with off premises sales of single cans, and the other having to do with on premises consumption of beer “simultaneously” with food. This is a wonderful step in the right direction towards crafting a fair ordinance that we can all agree on.”
    He added that “continued public discussion and input from affected business owners are essential to craft a revised ordinance that will address the Board’s concerns and, at the same time, be pro-business. We hope the Board will consider our positions on the problem areas in this ordinance and remove some of the hurdles they have placed in front of current and prospective business owners in Water Valley.”

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