Albemarle text amendment will allow bars, with limitations

Following a public hearing at its Feb. 19 meeting, Albemarle City Council voted 4-3 to approve a text amendment that would change terminology of “profit clubs” to “bars,” would limit such establishments to the downtown business district and would require at least a 200-foot separation between such uses.

For such an establishment to operate, approval of a Special Use Permit by City Council would be required.

Earlier, the Albemarle Planning and Zoning Board had, by a 7-1 vote, recommended the proposal for approval.

A similar request had come before council in May 2023, and was rejected, but the key limitation, according to Planning and Development Services Director Kevin Robinson, would be the separation requirement.

“The 200-foot criteria is something that would have to be met before (council) could consider a special use permit,” he said.
Councilman Chris Bramlett asked about the definition of “profit club.”

“That’s an old definition that allowed fraternal organizations and clubs to operate and serve alcohol,” replied Robinson.
Bramlett expressed his concerns over potential effects such establishments could cause.

“When I hear “bars,” I think of vomit in the street, fights and people driving drunk,” he said. “I don’t want to see bars in town.”

Councilman Dexter Townsend asked about regulations that ban alcohol sales within specified distances of churches and schools, and whether this would apply to the proposed amendment.

“Those restrictions apply in a GHBD (General Highway Business District) zoning,” Robinson stated.

Two downtown business owners spoke in support of the text amendment.

Joshua Hicks, owner of Badin Brews on South First Street, who had submitted the proposal, noted that with the separation requirement, “you can probably get six bars downtown, if they are strategically placed.”

Garrett Starnes, owner of Tomahawk Throwing Range, said that although he “would not serve spirits” at his place of business, he stands in favor of the amendment.

“Downtown Albemarle has some life in it again,” he said, “and I realize that people have some reservations about people drinking. But, the moral argument doesn’t hold water, because if people want to drink, they’re going to drink.

“I just want to see Albemarle succeed,” Starnes said.

Council passed the amendment by a 4-3 vote, with Councilmen Bill Aldridge, David Hunt and Bramlett opposed.

In other business, City Council:

● Honored retiring City Manager Michael Ferris (see separate story);

● Unanimously approved operation of a vacation rental home at 509 S. Fourth St;

● Voted 5-2 to pass a text amendment to major subdivision approval procedures;

● Voted 5-2 to abandon a right-of-way from the end of Unity Drive to Ridge Street;

● Unanimously approved recommendation to NCDOT to rename the section of Business U.S. Highway 52 from N.C. Highway 24-27 to East Park Avenue in honor of the late Thomas “Ed” Underwood.

● Received an update on minimum housing and commercial maintenance issues within the city.

Toby Thorpe is a freelance writer for The Stanly News & Press.