3 Liquor Stores For Loudon?

Loudon gets specific on liquor store rules

Author: Vicky Newman News Herald

The City of Loudon is edging closer to a proposed ordinance for governing package liquor sales. The issue has dominated Loudon City Council discussions for more than a month, since a voter referendum for liquor sales in Loudon County was passed Nov. 4.

Loudon City Council members must adopt an ordinance for liquor sales inside the city limits, where it has to be sold under state law.

Dissension continued Monday on some issues when Lynn Mills, city manager, provided a draft proposal for discussion among council members during the workshop meeting.

The working document prepared by Mills and City Recorder Stephanie Putkonen included wording based on liquor ordinances adopted by Alcoa and Kingston. Mills noted that the document was merely a starting point for discussions, and council members must iron out specifics for the draft ordinance.

Vice Mayor Eugene Lambert, who presided over the meeting because Mayor Bernie “Inky” Swiney was ill, commended Mills on the draft. “Lynn and his staff have really been working hard on this thing,” he said.

When discussions got under way, on several issues council members struggled with wording to keep the proposed ordinance restrictive, yet fair.

Highlights of the proposed regulations include:

• No more than three liquor stores may be permitted in the city limits;

• Liquor stores may be permitted to locate only in the commercial zones of C1, C2 and C4;

• Liquor stores must be at least 1,800 square feet, well-lighted, with unobstructed view from the street and adequate parking, but with no advertising, signs or drive up windows;

• An application fee of $300 will be charged applicants for liquor store license, plus $500 for an annual license, due on Dec. 31 of each year;

• Liquor store owners must be a resident of Loudon County for three years; if the owner is a partnership, limited liability company or corporation, 51 percent shareholders must be Loudon residents; 

• Liquor stores cannot be located within 250 feet of a church or school.

Mills clarified the proposed distance regulation. “That’s from the edge of the property of the school or church to the front door of a proposed liquor store,” he said.

Councilman Lewis “Charlie Brown” Garner said he had spoken with many Loudon residents, and his constituents did not want liquor stores anywhere in the proximity of schools or churches. “I think it (the distance) should be at least 500 feet — I’ve seen them at 1,000 feet. I don’t think 250 feet is enough,” Garner said. “I’m basing this on the fact that the majority of (Loudon city) voters don’t want liquor anyway.”

Councilman Mike Cartwright said he felt 500 feet, Garner’s initial request, was excessively restrictive. “If it is 500 feet, you would be hard pressed to put one anywhere except across the river,” he said. “One hundred feet is fine with me.”

From the audience, Robert Harrison, who owns real estate, urged council members to ease up on the distance. “Let the market make the decision,” he said. “My recommendation is no distance requirement in the C1 district downtown.” 

Harrison said that, with First Baptist Church and The Church of the Nazarine, even a 250-foot distance requirement precluded a liquor store’s location in much of downtown. “You’re taking out several blocks of the Courthouse Renovation District,” he said.

Garner said he hoped to keep liquor out of  the downtown area, and was holding out for at least 300 feet. However, Councilman Lynn Millsaps said he did not have a problem with 250 feet.  Lambert said, “I wouldn’t want to go farther, but­ 250 feet is fine with me.”

Mills said the distance requirement that would be needed to protect churches and schools would hinge on the area where a liquor store would be permitted — whether on Highway 72, in the downtown business district, or other specific locations.  In each zoning district, the establishment would have to meet zoning requirements, such as parking.

Most council members indicated they would prefer to decide on potential locations on a case-by-case basis, without specifying preferred districts.

Another matter of considerable discussion was about applications for liquor sales licenses. At issue was residency.

Council members had indicated the previous week that they want a local owner, someone with close ties to the community, who will be sensitive to community issues and maintaining a positive environment. They do not want an absentee owner, individual or corporation, whose sole consideration is the profit margin. Monday’s discussions attempted to determine whether the owner must be from the City of Loudon, Loudon County, or a portion of the county, such as the Urban Growth Area surrounding Loudon.

Lambert said he favored making the area for applicants the entire county. “It needs to be countywide, because the urban growth area boundary can be really confusing,” he said. “The wider residency area opens it for more individuals to apply.”

Councilman Lynn Millsaps agreed. “I think countywide is better. We will get more and better proposals if we open it up.”

Cartwright said, “I would go with the county and 51 percent, but I would go from two year residency to three years. I would like somebody as close as can be to be responsible.”

The draft proposed ordinance establishes that the applicant must be a resident of Loudon County for three years prior to the time the application is filed.

Mills said he will attempt to have a draft ordinance completed for consideration at the regular city council meeting scheduled for Dec. 15. “I’ll try to have a proposal to vote on next week,” he said. “Also, we will need an application document and forms for background and financial information. I will try to have them ready next week.”

Before the ordinance is adopted, it will be read in two consecutive readings, and a public hearing will be scheduled.

After an ordinance is finalized and adopted, the procedure will require an applicant to first receive a certificate of compliance from the city, then obtain a license from the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission.  After obtaining a state license, the applicant will return to the city with a project proposal.

In other business, the council discussed the renewal of the city’s intergovernmental agreement with the Loudon Regional Planning Office. However, because the agreement will be changing because Lenoir City Council had voted to withdraw from the contract, Russ Newman, planning director, said he would be returning with a modified proposal.