Albemarle Council votes against changing ordinance to allow for bars in downtown

An Albemarle business owner’s initiative to request a text amendment to the city’s code of ordinances to allow for bars in the central business district failed in a tight 3-4 during the city council meeting Monday night.

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

A proposed text amendment defined bars primarily as “establishments serving hard liquor and/or fortified wines without requisite percentages of sales being from food served by the establishment.”

Currently, only full-service restaurants are allowed to serve liquor.

Hicks told the council that his business, which opened in 2021, has benefited greatly from the city’s implementation of a social district throughout much of downtown.

While Badin Brews does not sell food, aside from some basic snacks, many patrons have access to Hilltop Seafood Co., located next door, and food trucks often parked outside.

“I want it to be something profitable for me and the businesses that are around me,” he said, noting he does not intend for Badin Brews to become a nightclub.

Albemarle Downtown Development Corporation Director Joy Almond also spoke in favor of Hicks’ initiative, calling the text amendment to allow bars in downtown “a step in the right direction.”

With the enactment of the social district, which took effect last year, patrons can leave full-service restaurants with to-go mixed beverages that contain liquor “and it leaves our tap rooms and breweries that maybe would want to sever liquor at a disadvantage to provide the same beverages under the current ordinance,” Almond said.

Two proposed ordinance were presented to council. Both changed “profit clubs” to “bars” and clarified the definition and intent (the businesses did not need any requisite percentage of food sales) and allowed such uses in the central business district, general highway business district and shopping center district. The second ordinance, though, would allow for bars only with a special use permit approved by the council.

Planning and Zoning Board heard about the issue during its May 4 meeting and voted 5-2 to recommend approval of the second ordinance with the special use permit.

Councilman Chris Bramlett signaled he would vote against the text amendment as he was concerned about the optics of allowing bars in downtown.

“I don’t see a bar as being anywhere but a place to go get drunk,” he said. “I don’t like that in downtown and I don’t like that anywhere in this area.”

Councilman Benton Dry offered a motion to approve the ordinance that included the special use permit, which was seconded by Councilman Dexter Townsend. The motion failed in a 3-4 vote. Aside from Bramlett, Mayor Pro-Tem Martha Sue Hall and council members Bill Aldridge and David Hunt opposed the ordinance.

On Tuesday morning, Hall said she wished Council had discussed the issue in more detail before voting. Hall said she even thought about tabling the issue until the next council meeting.

“I don’t like knee-jerk reactions,” she said. “There needed to be more discussion on it than what we had last night.”

Between the suddenness of the vote and two calls from constituents who voiced opposition to the text amendment, “I just wasn’t ready to do it,” she said.

Hall said she is looking into getting the issue back on the agenda for the council’s June 5 meeting.