Liquor law approved with loosened restrictions

Vicky Newman News Herald

In the absence of  council member and liquor sales opponent Lewis “Charlie Brown” Garner, the Loudon City Council Monday whittled away at the previous week’s proposed liquor ordinance requirements, then approved, without dissent, a less restrictive document than they had discussed.

The amended document reduces the distance requirement of liquor stores from schools and churches from 250 feet to 200 feet. This distance requirement was the issue on which Garner, a minister, had been most vocal and steadfast, declaring he would hold out for 1,000 feet from schools and churches.

In addition, the amended ordinance proposal reduces the required minimum building display space from 1,800 square feet to 1,500 square feet, and allows one free-standing sign on the property, but no off-premises advertising within the city limits. It also reduces from three to two the number of liquor stores that will be able to be permitted.

Council members had second thoughts on most of the regulatory measures that had been previously discussed in two lengthy workshop meetings. The substantive changes the Council made  were mostly items requested by individuals who hope to obtain a license to sell liquor in Loudon. A few minor changes in the proposed document were to correct typographical errors or change wording for legal reasons. For instance, the working section about liquor sales to minors was changed from minors to “persons below age 21.”

When Mayor Bernie “Inky” Swiney invited comments from visitors, Bart Iddins, an attendee of all prior meetings with liquor discussions, stood and addressed the council, asking for changes.
Iddins said he owned property with a convenience store on Mulberry that sells beer, and hopes to open a liquor store on the same property.

 “I would like to give you a little bit of what I’d like to recommend on the liquor,” Iddins said. “ I’ve owned a piece of property on Mulberry 30 to 35 years and the convenient part has been handling beer all that length of time. We’ve never even had an argument. If y’all go with 250 feet we’re out in left field. I feel 200 feet is a more reasonable to distance from church or school. I’d like you to consider using 200 feet as the dimension.

We have in the building 1,500 square feet and we want to put in the same size (liquor) store to complement what the convenient store has. The convenient store side has been very good for the city of Loudon; we request you consider changing those dimensions to 1,500 feet. I know you can’t offer bribes, but I will dance at any one of your next weddings if you do that.”

Swiney said, “This is the uppermost issue on everybody’s mind, the ordinance pertaining to liquor.”
Lynn Mills, city manager, said he had discussed the proposed ordinance with attorney Ed Arnold, and there was some question about liability if no free-standing sign was allowed.

Councilman Lynn Millsaps said, “I have no problems changing the (ordinance to allow) signs, if it falls under our building code.”

Ed Bell, another regular attendee of liquor discussions, and organizer for the voter resolution that legalized liquor, agreed that a sign would be needed. Bell said a liquor store will require a capital investment of about $500,000. “I’ve been talking to people in Alcoa and Maryville, and they said (sign restrictions) is the biggest drawback. We will have to depend on the surrounding area to survive, and those people who come need to see where they are coming. The more people that buy here, the more taxes are going to help Loudon.”

A smaller (20 square-foot) sign will be allowed on the face of the building, as well as the free-standing sign.

Bell also said it was his belief that Loudon cannot support three liquor stores. “If it is three, that rules me out,” he said.

According to Mills, several complaints were received that three liquor stores were too many.  “We looked at the population, but it is the council’s discretion to set the number,” Mills said.

Arnold said he could not guarantee that the provision of “up to three” liquor stores would not be challenged and cause the council to have to license three stores.

Not every request was granted. Robert Harrison, who the previous week had asked that council members consider including no distance requirement in the downtown business district, repeated his request.

“I think that whatever we establish, it should be citywide,” Councilman Gene Lambert said.  “We don’t want liquor stores at the back door of any church.”

The portion of the proposed ordinance pertaining to the number of liquor stores was discussed at length. Lynn Mills, city manager, said he had based the proposed ordinance document on the regulations specified by the council in the two workshops. “I attempted to incorporate the discussions of the workshop last week. I updated the residency requirement to include Loudon County instead of the urban growth area.”

Councilman Michael Cartwright said he did not know how to proceed with the requested changes. “Loudon is my first concern — not the people here, not Lenoir City, Philadelphia or anywhere else. Most people in the city didn’t want this, and the biggest proponent for the greater distance is not here tonight. . . . If y’all change it, y’all change it.”

Millsaps pointed out that the council had no choice in the matter. An ordinance must be adopted to prevent the state from taking over that function. “We can wait. We don’t have to vote tonight,” he said. 

After discussion of the proposed changes by Mills, on a motion by Millsaps, seconded by Lambert, the council approved the ordinance with the changes specified.

Swiney thanked the council for their effort in hammering out the ordinance.

A public hearing on the proposed ordinance will be held at 7 p.m. Jan. 19, prior to the regular city council meeting. It may be adopted at the 7:30 p.m. meeting on the second reading, along with an applications package.

In other action, the Council also approved on first reading an updated beer ordinance, to bring it in line with state law. A public hearing on the beer ordinance is set for 7:15 p.m. on the same day.
Following the two public hearings, in the regular meeting,  the Council may also adopt an application package and set a deadline for submitting applications.

Garner, who reportedly was absent from the meeting because of a conflict, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.