City Council stays with decision against bars in downtown Albemarle

Published 3:09 pm Tuesday, June 6, 2023

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Something happened Monday night that doesn’t usually happen at a city council meeting.

The Albemarle City Council received a standing ovation following a decision to do nothing.

When Mayor Ronnie Michael asked for a motion, no motion was was made for or against reopening the possibility of a special use permit to allow bars in downtown Albemarle. With no motion, the item failed.

The talk of allowing bars in downtown originally failed 4-3 at the May 15 meeting.

Joshua Hicks, owner of Badin Brews in downtown Albemarle, sought to clarify that bars be allowed to serve liquor and fortified drinks without sale of food.

At the last council meeting, two proposed ordinances were presented to Council. Each changed “profit clubs” to “bars” and clarified the definition and intent — that businesses did not need a certain percentage of food sales — and allowed such uses in the central business district, general highway business district and shopping center district. The second option allowed bars only with a special use permit from the council. At its May 4 meeting, the Planning and Zoning Board voted 5-2 to recommend approval of the second ordinance.

The discussion was brought back before Council Monday as Mayor Pro Tem Martha Sue Hall felt last month’s vote was too quick. “I don’t like knee-jerk reactions,” she said the day after last month’s vote. “There needed to be more discussion on it than what we had last night.”

At Monday’s meeting, three pastors — Adam Hatley, Stoney Enfield and Danny Laws — spoke about the hazardous effects of alcohol on the community.

Hatley, pastor of West Albemarle Baptist Church for more than 25 years, spoke of personal experiences of how alcohol has harmed the community.

One example was of his dad, a firefighter, going to the scene of a wreck where a fellow firefighter’s son had been killed instantly after being struck by a drunk driver.

“In an instant that family was forever changed and so was our community all because of the deadly effects of alcohol,” Hatley said. “Those effects have been felt in my own family and maybe even in some of yours.”

He also spoke of his grandfather warning him against alcohol, speaking of his grandpa’s father-in-law being an alcoholic and one of his brothers dying of alcoholism.

“I have never met a person who not drink and also drive and I mean never,” he said. “I have ministered to many families who have been on the receiving end of the destructive effects of alcohol. Spouses who have had to raise children in the homes of a drunk. Families who could not pay their bills. Marriages that could not survive.”

Laws and Benfield also spoke of the horrors of drugs, alcohol and gambling.

Councilman Chris Bramlett, who voted against the text amendment in May, again expressed his views against alcohol and other vices.

“I’ve been here 40 some years. I was here when we were dry … when the [alcohol] referendum passed. I’ve seen alcohol go in restaurants. I’ve seen ABC stores. I’ve seen that segue and we now have breweries where you don’t have to have food. You can drink all the beer you want, we don’t have food. We now have social districts. We’ve seen this evolve. We have social districts where you can take your drink and walk through town with it,” Bramlett said. “I don’t know if you know it or not, but the legislature is considering legalizing marijuana. That is being considered by the legislature right now. You talk about the kinds of things that our ministers have talked about. We have just across our border a huge gambling casino that has been approved by the legislature. If we have totally open bars, if have legalized marijuana, if we have gambling, all that we have left is prostitution. And where on earth are we going with all of this? It pains me to even think about it folks.”

Councilman Dexter Townsend spoke of the positives Badin Brews has brought to the city as well as how the city is trying to encourage people to visit downtown.

“He (Hicks) made a statement that he’s losing a lot of business to other some other towns simply because he doesn’t have the option to provide liquor to his patrons who desire to drink liquor instead of craft beer,” Townsend said.

Townsend pointed to street festivals the business hosted on Aug. 13 and Oct. 8 of last year.

“Badin Brews single handedly as a business brought more people to the streets of downtown Albemarle for a festival than any festival that the city of Albemarle ever sponsored could generate traffic for,” he said.

With the conditional use permit again off the table, only full-service restaurants are allowed to serve liquor.