By David Howell
WATER VALLEY – Aldermen addressed multiple recommendations at last Tuesday’s city board meeting for potential changes to Water Valley’s beer and sound ordinances following input from a committee that met last month.
The recommendations were made by an eight-person committee with input from the public during a public meeting held October 26 and included two proposed changes to the beer ordinance and three changes to the sound ordinance. Committee members were appointed by aldermen and included Daniel Martin, Raymond Hawkins, Vickie Persons, Barron Caulfield, Kathy Williams, Ethel Morgan, Casey Clevenger and John Beaty.
As committee chairman, Clevenger presented the recommendations during the Nov. 7 city meeting. Among the changes was to strike a sentence in Section 7 of the beer ordinance that requires a restaurant to only serve a beer to a customer with a meal or in anticipation of a meal. The requirement was the primary catalyst for last month’s public meeting about the ordinances after Terry Warner told aldermen that this requirement would be difficult to enforce.
Warren has worked intermittently for almost three years renovating a pair of Main Street buildings with plans to open a restaurant, bar and venue room and has reported multiple times that this requirement would make it difficult to open the restaurant and bar.
The recommended change to the beer ordinance did not pass after Ward 1 Alderman Kagan Coughlin’s motion to strike this portion of the ordinance failed to receive a second.
Aldermen were in favor of a recommendation for the sound ordinance, to establish a decibel reading to gauge outside noise, and voted to research the issue and possibly set a level.
A third recommendation by the committee to extend the hours for the sound ordinance from 11 p.m. until midnight on Fridays and Saturday was rejected by aldermen. Ward 3 Alderman Cinnamon Foster said she had researched the sound ordinance in Oxford, explaining that it was easily assessable online.
“I am not trying to use Oxford as a comparison for our city in any way,” Foster said. “But their ordinance is very similar to ours. They still have 11 to 7 and it is a college town,” Foster said.
“I didn’t find any towns in the area that are later than 11 p.m. I haven’t seen any function in Water Valley that has gone past 10 or 10:30, even the biggest ones,” Coughlin said. “This may be something in a couple of years that we may need to revisit.”
Aldermen also did not act on a recommendation to allow soups and salads as sole menu items for a restaurant to be in compliance with the requirements set forth in the beer ordinance for a restaurant to serve beer. Several aldermen noted that state law already prohibits restaurants from only serving soups and salads to meet food requirements for serving a beer.
“Whether you leave it in or take it out, it is still going to be the same thing. It is not going to make any difference, it is in the state statute,” Foster said.
Another recommendation from the committee, which was to allow special permits to allow a business or individual to operate outside of the city’s sound ordinance for special events such as a wedding, was tabled. Aldermen agreed that the term special events was to broad and more research was needed.
The final input from the committee was to determine if an earlier amendment to the beer ordinance intended to delete the sentences prohibiting gambling, pool tables or billiard tables at an establishment.
“They just wanted some clarity on that, whether it was included or not included,” explained City Attorney Daniel Martin. “I can’t imagine it was taken out.”
City officials agreed to research previous board minutes to determine if the intent of aldermen was to remove the restriction on the pool tables and billiard tables or if it was deleted by accident.
The recommendations were addressed early in the meeting after Coughlin requested to evaluate each point and determine whether action was needed.
“We can, I would have a suggestion that we do wait until we have a new mayor and full board, but that is just my suggestion,” Mayor Pro Tempore Donald Gray, who presided over the meeting, recommended.
“I agree,” Ward 2 Aldermen Fred White said about postponing the conversation until a new mayor is elected.
“I am not sure that I agree, I think we have businesses that are waiting. I think we just had an election four months ago. If we discuss them line by line, I would like to know how everyone feels,” Coughlin said.
“That is fine to discuss,” Gray agreed.
“I would like to go through the points of the list and try to address that and follow up on what the committee brought to us,” Foster said after aldermen ultimately agreed to address the issues at the Nov. 7 meeting.
During discussion on the recommendation to remove a sentence in Section 7 of the ordinance that requires a beer to be served with a meal or in anticipation of a meal, Coughlin pointed to potential problems with a restaurant owner enforcing the requirement.
“There are other sections throughout the ordinance that accomplish the goal of not having the kind of establishment that would not serve food,” Coughlin said about the requirement that restricts a bar from operating unless it is part of a legitimate restaurant.
“The 50-percent requirement seems more than sufficient,” Coughlin said about the beer ordinance, which requires restaurants to have at least 50 percent food sales if they serve beer or light wine.
“One of my problems with that is this, an establishment can beat the 50-percent rule by serving only meals one might and only beer the next night and still would be in compliance with the 50 percent rule,” Gray said.
“My concern, and I think the concern that was expressed since the adoption of this ordinance, is that it is not based on treating our neighbors and community members as adults. It is treating them as though we don’t trust them and we are working under the assumption that they will not behave and so we are going to try and extend our control in ways that are a little odd, a little over-bearing,” Coughlin countered.
“I can respect your way of thinking, I just think different, that is why we are discussing,” Gray said.
“I will make the motion that the sentence be removed from our ordinance. It was a clear outcome from our subcommittee’s discussion and the community’s input that evening,” Coughlin said.
His motion died after not receiving a second.
Coughlin also expressed his opinion about another issue discussed by committee members at the October 27 public meeting, allowing convenience stores to sell cold beer. Coughlin first noted that the topic generated discussion at the public meeting before committee members were in agreement not to recommend changing the beer ordinance to allow cold beer sales.
“There was a lot of discussion… and I have been waiting to hear a compelling reason why we restrict our neighbors from buying a legal product in this country based on temperature. I really wanted to hear something that sounded logical, that was not going back to that we don’t trust our fellow citizens to behave like grown ups. What I found missing in the discussion was remembering that this is America. We have tried prohibition. There are products that are legal, there are products that are illegal. There are counties where you can tell your neighbor whether or not you can do something based on your feelings. This is not one of them. This country is about freedom. We have laws, if you follow them your neighbor can’t tell you that on top of the laws you also have to follow their feelings. If we ever get to a point where there is a feeling that is more than just mine, I would vote for cold beer sales based on that. Not based on economics, not based on any other feeling… remembering what this country is about,” Coughlin said.
Other business conducted at the Nov. 7 city meeting included:
• Approved a request from Lawton Gafford to apply for a permit to sell beer at his restaurant for on-premises consumption. His request was approved.
A second request from Gafford to acquire a city-owned awning that was removed from the chamber of commerce building was also approved. Aldermen voted to sell the property according to requirements outlined in state law.
• Approved the $459,765 bid from 4D Construction for a sewage repair project on a main truck line in town. The funding will come from grants.
• Reimbursed Ward 4 Alderman Nicole Folson $75 for training.
• Entered executive session to discuss a litigation issue.