McMinnville officials are considering a measure that would allow beer to be sold closer to schools and churches. The 300-foot distance requirement is one vote away from being removed.
During Tuesday night’s regular session, Alderman Rick Barnes motioned to strike a sentence from the city’s existing policy. That sentence is, “No sale or distribution of beer shall be made at places within 300 feet of any school, public or private, kindergarten or churches.”
His motion passed 4-3. Voting in favor were Mayor Jimmy Haley, Vice Mayor Ben Newman and Aldermen Billy Wood and Barnes. Voting against it were Aldermen Jimmy Bonner, Ken Smith and Mike Neal.
Before the vote, Neal attempted to table the issue in order to give time for adequate public notice because the motion by Barnes was not on the agenda for consideration.
“This is an issue that we should hope to hear from constituents on,” Neal said. “I make a motion we table this until we’ve had time to hear from them.”
His attempt failed because a motion was already on the floor that called for the vote.
Haley said the 300-foot restriction could be a hindrance to some property owners.
“I think this has to do with property. I’ve had some folks come to me because their property has been disabled. If they want to put a restaurant in and if they want to serve alcohol or wine, they are prohibited because of their proximity to a church," said Haley.
Smith said removing the restriction could be considered a hindrance to churches and questioned Haley about criticisms he had made regarding a prior board’s tendency to not give what he considered adequate public notice.
“Mayor Haley, how many times have you told me over the last two years that the previous board brought things to the board meeting that no one had time to look at or discuss or the public didn’t know and you were totally against that,” Smith said. “At the very least, this needs to be put off until the next board meeting.”
An ordinance requires two reads before the board. Haley says the time in between the votes can be used to consider the measure.
“Between now and the second reading, we can decide once and for all if this is the right direction the city needs to take,” Haley said. “I want to study what some other cities have done.”
Prompting the discussion was a recommendation from the Alcoholic Beverage Board, also called a Beer Board, to city board members to consider making one of two changes to the policy: taking away the church distance requirement for the sale of beer, or defining a church as “an entity which has been designed by the IRS as a 501(c)3 church.”
However, officials did not consider that request because it was deemed inappropriate by city attorney Tim Pirtle because Beer Board members are charged with approving or denying a beer license request based on the city’s current policy. Members do not have the authority to suggest policy change to the city board.
In the audience and speaking out against the measure were representatives from local churches.
“On behalf of our congregation, we would be very opposed to anything that would ease the restrictions allowing the sale of beer or distribution of alcoholic beverages any closer than 300 feet,” said Tim Hitchcock, bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
Ben Bailey, minister from Central Church of Christ, says his congregation is against the measure as well.
“On behalf of Central, I would like to make the encouragement to the board here to not accept the resolution that has been made to take out the language of the church and the 300-foot limit,” said Bailey.
McMinnville Locust Street Church of God pastor Jeff Page also stands in opposition.
“I think it would be the wrong decision to remove that restriction,” said Page. “We have churches in this city who are trying to minister to people. To remove that restriction and put those places closer to our church, I think would be a bad move.”
A second vote on the measure has not been scheduled. It will likely be on one of next month’s regular meeting nights, which are on the second and fourth Tuesdays.
In anticipation of a large crowd, Alderman Neal says he is going to request the meeting be held at a much bigger venue, possibly even the Civic Center. He said the regular meeting room at City Hall can only legally accommodate 70 people. After that, everyone else would be turned away.